Right Place, Right Time Resulted in Win For The "Other" Burton Brother
(Note: This is the third installment in a five-part series, "The Top 5 Greatest Daytona 500 Upsets." Previously listed: At No. 5, Pete Hamilton's victory in 1970; and at No. 4, Mario Andretti's victory in 1967.)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 10, 2007) -- For a number of years leading up to the 2002 Daytona 500, many people had expected to see a driver named Burton in Victory Lane one February.
Jeff Burton, that is.
By no means was that a dismissal of Jeff's older brother Ward. It's just that during the second half of the 1990s, Jeff Burton became one of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' premier drivers. From 1997-2001 he finished in the top 10 of the final series standings. He also had a fifth-place finish in the 1996 Daytona 500 and a runner-up effort in 2000. Ward Burton, meanwhile, had his own solid resume: Ninth in the final points in 1999; 10th in 2000; and two eighth-place finishes (1997 and 2000) in the 500.
But all those numbers meant little on the afternoon of Feb. 17, 2002. Circumstances indeed conspired to yield one of the 500's true surprises.
Daytona 500 Upset No. 3: Ward Burton, 2002
* The Favorites: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Michael Waltrip.
* The Intangible: An 18-car incident -- that took out several contenders -- with 50 laps to go.
* The Winner's Stats: Started 19th; led the last five laps; average speed 142.971 mph; $1,409,017 in prize money.
* The Rundown: Burton, driving the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge, won a race of attrition. But if you think his victory was surprising, check out who finished second and third: Elliott Sadler and none other than the 1986 Daytona 500 winner, Geoffrey Bodine. ... There were nine cautions, the last coming out on Lap 195. That caused a red flag period, during which race leader and two-time 500 champion Sterling Marlin inexplicably got out of his car and tried to bend a crumpled fender back into shape. Repairs aren't allowed during red flags and Marlin was sent to the rear of the field on the restart. Burton inherited the lead and proceeded to out-race everyone to the finish -- giving Dodge its first Daytona 500 victory since 1974.
* Burton's Take: "We had some luck. We were in the right place at the right time. Being a part of it, being in Victory Lane, getting high-fived by all our different team members, coming down and joining our team in Victory Lane, there's nothing that's ever going to top that."
* The Follow-Up: Burton won one more time in 2002, at the summer New Hampshire race. He hasn't won since but that's partly because he raced only three times during 2006, concentrating on the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, a wildlife conservation organization. ... He returns to full-time status this year, driving the No. 4 Chevrolet for Morgan-McClure Motorsports, a team that has three Daytona 500 victories.