Jeff Burton in ''The Winston"

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Ward Burton's victory in the TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington raceway on Sunday, March 19 secured him a spot in The Winston. This year marks the 16th running of the famed event and Burton's fifth year of...

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Ward Burton's victory in the TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington raceway on Sunday, March 19 secured him a spot in The Winston. This year marks the 16th running of the famed event and Burton's fifth year of participation.

Drivers and team owners who have earned victories in 1999 or 2000 are eligible to participate, along with previous winners of The Winston and past Winston Cup Champions who aren't already qualified through a victory. The winner of the Winston Open and the Winston Open "No Bull Sprint" events will also advance to The Winston.

The All-Star event has posted earnings of $2 million and $500,000 for the winner of The Winston.

"It would mean the world to the Caterpillar Racing team if we could win this race," said Ward Burton, driver of the No. 22 Caterpillar Racing Pontiac. "They've worked so hard just to be eligible for The Winston and it would be wonderful to repay them with a win.

"This team knocked on the door of victory all through the 1999 season and the finally did it at Darlington. We've been in The Winston before and we're just glad we earned it and didn't have to race our way in it. It is a lot more meaningful if you can get in by virtue of winning in the regular season rather than advancing through the Winston Open."

This weekend will mark Burton's fifth start in The Winston. He first competed in The Winston in 1994 when he advanced through finishing fifth in the Winston Open. In 1994, the rules allowed the top-five finishers of the Winston Open to advance to The Winston. Burton, however, missed the event in 1995 but was back in 1996 after his first-career victory at Rockingham in October 1995. Burton also competed in the event in 1997 and 1999 through his 1995 victory. His best finish in the event to date was ninth in 1994.

But Burton is looking for 2000 to be the year to top that finish. With momentum and consistency his team has shown throughout the 2000 season, it is not beyond reach.

"They way this team has run so far in the 2000 season, I truly believe we have a legitimate chance at taking that trophy home with us," said Burton. "We have run well all year and we run especially well at Charlotte. Ever since Tommy has been on board, we've improved our finishes at Charlotte."

Baldwin shares Burton's enthusiasm. Together, they have not finished out of the top 10 at Charlotte (second - 1998 UAW-GM 500, eighth - 1999 Coca-Cola 600, fifth - 1999 UAW-GM 500).

"We built a new car just for this race," said Tommy Baldwin, Jr., crew chief for the No. 22 Caterpillar Racing Pontiac. "We duplicated our Darlington car. We know that car has been proven, so it made perfect sense to try and make some more just like it. The plan is to run that same car at the Coca-Cola 600 next week too."

The victory at Darlington proved to be a stepping-stone to what the Caterpillar Racing team was capable of. As they head into The Winston, they are just three points out of leading the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. More victories are on the horizon, but team owner Bill Davis is just grateful to be a team in contention for the trophy.

"Winning at Darlington meant the world to the Caterpillar Racing team," said Bill Davis, car owner of the No. 22 Caterpillar Racing team. "To make it into The Winston is just wonderful. This team has worked so hard to get to this point in their careers and they deserve to be honored by being in The Winston. With the way this team has been competing each week, we definitely have a shot at the win. That's all we've ever wanted - to contend for a win each week."

With a record $500,000 on the line for the winner, you can bet it will be a race to the checkered flag.

"With that kind of money, I guarantee you're going to see one of the most exciting finishes in the history of The Winston."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Ward Burton , Tommy Baldwin