Burton lived up to build-up in 1999 By Marty Smith NEW YORK (Dec. 1, 1999) During the boisterous preseason hype leading up to the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series campaign, many predicted Jeff Burton would conquer the recent empire built at ...
Burton lived up to build-up in 1999 By Marty Smith
NEW YORK (Dec. 1, 1999) During the boisterous preseason hype leading up to the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series campaign, many predicted Jeff Burton would conquer the recent empire built at Hendrick Motorsports, and thus he was considered the chief heir to Jeff Gordon's throne.
For Burton, such expectations have been a way of life since he took the reigns of Jack Roush's No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford in 1996.
However, despite six victories -- more than twice his previous career output -- and 18 top-5s, he finished fifth in the points race for the second consecutive season. Were it not for three DNFs and six finishes outside the top-30, he likely would've given Dale Jarrett all he could handle down the stretch.
"It was an up-and-down year for us," Burton said. "We're proud of our six wins but we're disappointed at the number of races we didn't finish. To be a champion you have to be competitive every race. We had some mechanical failures and I made some mistakes. If you want to be competitive you can't do that."
Not that Burton wasn't competitive in '99. The No. 99 Roush Racing team was one of the most competitive outfits on the entire circuit. Gordon was the only driver to win more races, and only Jarrett (24), Bobby Labonte (23) and Mark Martin (19) had more top-5s.
Burton opened the season with a dismal showing at the Daytona 500, when an ill-handling car relegated him to a 35th-place finish. However, his rebound from that subpar outing was tremendous. He posted a 4th-place run at Rockingham in the second race of the year, then held off older brother Ward to record his first victory of the season at Las Vegas. Two weeks later he would return the No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford to Victory Lane yet again, winning the rain-shortened TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington Raceway.
Following his win at Darlington, Burton took the points lead for the first time in his career. On the strength of five top-10 runs in the next six races, Burton would hold his championship lead until May 15th at Richmond International Raceway, when Jarrett took the lead for good.
"We've learned a lot from 1999 and hope to take those lessons to 2000," Burton said of his season. "We're not competing against Jeff Gordon or Dale Jarrett or Mark Martin. We work hard every week to do the best that we can. If we do that and get some breaks than who knows?"
One thing Burton knows for certain is how to win the big one. Twice in '99 he pocketed an extra million dollars in the Winston No Bull 5 Million-Dollar Bonus program. With his win at Las Vegas, Burton made himself eligible to win the bonus should he win the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He did just that, leading the most laps in the season's longest race.
By winning at Charlotte, Burton was once-again one of five drivers eligible to win the extra million in the Pepsi Southern 500 at storied Darlington Raceway. Once again, he did just that, fending off older brother Ward in the rain once again to win his second million dollar award. Gordon is the only other driver to win the bonus more than once in the same season.
As always, the credit for his accomplishments was given to his crew, his owner and his sponsor.
"I've got the best crew I've ever had with the best equipment I've ever had," he said. "Jack (Roush) has given us what we need to succeed and so it's up to us. You can't ask for anything more than that. Frank (Stoddard) is now a seasoned crew chief who's shown he can consistently win.
"We've got Buddy (Parrott)'s leadership and guidance. That's a great combination. We've got a lot of work to do. I never make promises about performance but I will say that no team will work any harder."
On Friday, Burton will walk across the Waldorf-Astoria stage for the third time in as many years. After that, the expectations for 2000 will begin surfacing yet again. For Burton, it's a way of life.