Before the 2006 season started, Jeff Burton told the media in Daytona that he expected to be a championship contender. He just wanted to get back to where he was earlier in his career. On Sunday, he won the Dover 400 and took a giant step towards...
Before the 2006 season started, Jeff Burton told the media in Daytona that he expected to be a championship contender. He just wanted to get back to where he was earlier in his career. On Sunday, he won the Dover 400 and took a giant step towards that goal.
Burton won a furious battle with Matt Kenseth in the closing laps for his first win since October 2001. It was Burton's 18th career win and ended a 175 race drought.
"That was a heck of a race," said Burton, who started 19th and led the final six laps of the race. "It was so much fun racing Matt. I am so appreciative for everyone on this car who stuck with us through times that were tough. I thank (owner) Richard (Childress) for believing in me and this team for resurrecting me. This team has brought me back into it and I'm so grateful for it."
Burton won 17 times and was a consistent championship contender during a five year stretch with Roush Racing. After a pair of winless seasons, Burton left for Richard Childress Racing for the final 14 races of the 2004 season.
"It has been a long time," Burton said. "I felt like if we just kept putting ourselves in position then we'd have a good chance. We've been doing that this year. We didn't lead until the end, but we were right when it counted."
Kenseth elected to stay out during the final caution on lap 322, but Burton was one of nine lead lap cars that went in for fresh tires. He said that he had what he needed to get past Kenseth.
"The last pit stop and the strategy won the race," Burton said. "We beat three cars off pit road and you could see how close it was with Matt. That was the difference between winning and finishing second. I knew when I got to him - he was running the top and I was running the bottom - I knew that it was going to take a long time. Finally I drove in there a little deeper than I should have. I got on the gas and it stuck. It was an opportune time."
The win gave Burton a six point lead in the championship standings over Jeff Gordon, who finished third on Sunday.
"It feels really good to have the support of these guys and so many people," Burton said. "When things aren't going well, you just can't quit. You've got to keep fighting. We've got eight (races) to go. This (winning) is a great deal, but we can't lose focus. I'm really proud of the effort of everybody, all 360 employees at RCR have stepped it up and are doing an incredible job."
Kenseth started the race third and took the lead from Elliott Sadler on lap 75. He led 84 laps before a mistake on pit road moved him back in the field. With the circuit under caution for debris, Kenseth overshot his pit stall and needed his crew to push his DeWalt Ford back into position. He led a race-high 215 laps, but finished 10th after running out of gas heading to the white flag.
"I almost gave the race away, messing up in the pits," Kenseth said. "I was pretty pumped up that we were able to overcome that and lead the race. I thought we had the best car, but we didn't have enough gas to get there anyway."
Carl Edwards, who replaced Burton in the #99 Ford for Roush Racing in 2004, finished second.
"That was a lot of fun," Edwards said. "The first pit stop, I was driving to a pit that was not mine. I'm not sure which one I was going for. We got a little bit behind on that last pit stop. It was a fun day."
Kurt Busch finished fourth and Greg Biffle rounded out the top five.
"It's a great feeling to have a good run today," Busch said. "We got to play up front and try to lead. We're trying something for next year and it worked out for us."
Chase contender Kasey Kahne got into trouble just 11 laps into the race. Tony Stewart spun going into Turn 4 and collected Kahne at the top of the track. Kahne finished 38th and dropped to ninth in the standings.
"It looked like the 20 was loose," Kahne said. "We were all battling and he spun out. I didn't have anywhere to go. That hurts pretty bad to have such a good car, but things happen. It's a disappointing day. We can hopefully still get a top-5 (in the standings), but it kills us for the championship."
Kyle Busch also took a hit to his championship hopes when his motor quit on lap 111. After crashing and finishing last in New Hampshire last week, Busch finished 40th this week and is 224 points behind Burton in the championship standings.
"It must have been the valve train or something," Busch said. "It's just a shame. The (car) was really strong today. I told the team that I was very proud of them for the way the car was set up today. It was awesome. This isn't normal for the Hendrick Motorsports motor department."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to pit out of sequence with a flat right front tire on lap 284. He dropped down two laps and finished 21st. He slipped to seventh in the standings.
Kevin Harvick came into the race as the championship leader but retired from the race with 33 laps to go with an expired motor.
"I blew up," said Harvick, who suffered his first DNF of the season. "That's the first time we've had an engine failure in I don't know how long."