Commentary

Burton happy with the action at Bristol after surprising win

Jeff Burton held off spinning another driver to win last year at Bristol. Good karma came back his way with a stunning victory Sunday, writes David Newton.

Updated: March 16, 2008, 9:11 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Jeff Burton became visibly upset in August when it was suggested that the newly resurfaced Bristol Motor Speedway had gone from one of NASCAR's most exciting tracks to one of the most boring.

"If you think a race is boring here, I'm not even going to talk to you," he said, interrupting the question before it could be finished. "That's a ridiculous statement."

It didn't seem so ridiculous with three laps left in Sunday's scheduled 500-lap race at what is advertised as the "world's fastest half-mile." Other than a few spinouts and minor incidents, the world's best stock car drivers might as well have been at California Speedway, there was so little drama.

Then came Lap 498.

Kevin Harvick got into the side of Tony Stewart's car trying to pass inside for second place. That sent Stewart first into a spin, then into a verbal tirade.

On the ensuing green-white-checkered finish, Burton flew past Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, for the lead and pulled away for his first Bristol victory.

Harvick finished second and Clint Bowyer third to give Richard Childress Racing a podium sweep on a day that belonged to JGR -- Stewart, Hamlin and Kyle Busch led 372 of what turned into 506 laps with six laps of overtime.

Then the real Bristol fireworks began, and not the ones flaring over the track as Burton did his burnout.

Stewart stormed away from the track after a brief television interview in which he sarcastically said that he thought he'd given Harvick plenty of room but that "I'm sure somehow it was my fault."

There was a verbal war on top of the spotters' stand when Stewart's spotter threatened Harvick after Harvick sent his spotter over to apologize. That set off Harvick, who already was upset that Stewart's spotter had called him an expletive over the radio.

"You know, Tony and I can work it out and I don't need some idiot up there stirring it up!" Harvick said.

Asked another question about the incident, Harvick responded, "I've already answered it once, but I'll answer one more ignorant question."

These are the exchanges that make Bristol the toughest ticket in NASCAR, the reason 160,000 fans fight traffic -- and, this weekend, rain -- to sit at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and watch cars go around in circles.

It still wasn't the Bristol of old, where drivers had to bump the car ahead of them out of the way to pass, where tempers flared more than at any other stop on the circuit.

But there was plenty of passing and -- at the end -- plenty of drama to make it a good show.

"I'm a huge fan of this facility," Burton said after his third top-10 in five races moved him to fourth in points. "It's so much better. I will give you that if you want to watch wrecks, you're happier at the old racetrack. If you want to watch racing, this track is better."

There were several times when Burton simply pulled over and let somebody pass. Had he done that on the old track, he might have given up a dozen spots because everybody ran so tight in a single line around the bottom.

But with two and sometimes three grooves to race on, he could give up a spot and gain it back just as quickly.

"That prevents bumper-car wrecks," Burton said. "The racing, from my standpoint, is just incredible. It's still as hard of racing as it's ever been. You just have more room to breathe."

Hamlin had no room to breathe on the final restart. With a right-front tire almost worn to the cord, he was a sitting duck for Burton, who pitted for tires when caution came out on Lap 491 after Brian Vickers got into the wall. To add insult to injury, Hamlin's car sputtered on the restart with what was figured to be a fuel pickup problem.

"The restart worked out perfect," Burton said. "I throttled up and started catching him big-time. I almost ran into him."

On the old surface, running into Hamlin would have been the only way Burton would have passed for the lead. But everybody knew he wouldn't get into Hamlin -- just as he didn't get into Busch on the final lap a year ago.

"A lot of people questioned my move here last year not taking Kyle out to win the race," Burton said. "That's who I am. I'm not going to change who I am.

"I could have had a trophy in my case last year if I had knocked Kyle out of the way. Those things have a way of coming back to you."

This one came back to him because Harvick gave Stewart little room with four laps remaining. He got underneath the two-time Cup champion, then slid up the track, sending Stewart into the wall and a 14th-place finish.

Jeff Burton

When [Harvick and Stewart] got together, I viewed that as the opportunity. That was the door that opened that if we had any shot at all to win, we had to jump through.

-- Jeff Burton

Stewart, who led a race-high 267 laps and has led 769 laps in the spring race here since 2006, was obviously distraught.

"I thought I left him plenty of room, but I don't know," he said. "I was far enough ahead of him that I didn't see where he hit me or when he hit me."

Harvick admitted it was his fault, saying, "I just lost it there underneath. You know, it's just the way it goes. I mean, he did the same thing in Indianapolis. I did the same thing here. Just made a mistake. They can take it for what it's worth and go on with it."

Harvick might have won the race in regulation had it not been for the mistake. He stopped for fresh tires under caution while running second with five laps remaining while the rest of the top four -- Stewart, Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- stayed out.

Harvick had the fastest car, something Burton couldn't say all day. The only laps Burton led were the final two.

"When [Harvick and Stewart] got together, I viewed that as the opportunity," he said. "That was the door that opened that if we had any shot at all to win, we had to jump through."

Burton was fortunate to be in position to win. He almost got into Greg Biffle late in the race, and he made a great save after making contact with Jimmie Johnson.

"I won't lose sleep tonight because somebody says we [didn't have] a faster car," Burton said. "All I know is we got the trophy. That's what we came here to do. We did what it took to get it."

And he wasn't bored doing it.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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