NASCAR & Auto Racing

Time on Burton's side?

Unless it changes in the final five races, Jeff Burton will for a third straight season be the oldest driver to win a Sprint Cup race in 2008.

Burton, 41, also is the oldest driver in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But after his victory in Saturday nigh''s Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, he also appears to be the driver best situated to deny Jimmie Johnson a third straight championship.

"No one has ever proved to me why you can do at 41 what you could do at 23," Burton said after his 21st career victory, his second this season and his third all time at the Charlotte track. "If you convince yourself you can't, then you can't.

"Trust me, a lot of people will try to convince you that you're too old to do it. But with age comes a lot of advantages, too. And we'll try to take those advantages every chance we get."

The preponderant advantage in Saturday night's race was track position. Specifically, the car with the lead and the clean air that comes with was almost bulletproof.

Johnson, Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers and Jeff Gordon all took a turn running away from the field until the final scenario began playing out when debris from Robby Gordon's blown tire brought out a yellow on Lap 266.

Everyone but Reed Sorenson had just completed a green-flag stop, so most of the contenders stayed on the track under that yellow. But Jeff Gordon, who'd fought back from falling a lap down early by staggering his pit stop sequence, did come in.

That left Greg Biffle and Burton at the top of the scoreboard, but they had several cars at the end of the lead lap in front of them for the restart on Lap 269. Since neither enjoyed a clear race track ahead of them, Burton and Biffle spent the next 10 laps or so actually racing each other for the lead - a remarkably rare occurrence given that the race's final statistics showed 24 lead changes among 16 drivers.

Burton swept to Biffle's outside on Lap 278 and pulled away until Juan Pablo Montoya's Dodge hit the wall in Turn 1 on Lap 296 to bring out another yellow and bring the leaders in for their final stops.

As Burton was coming down pit road, crew chief Scott Miller radioed to his crew and his driver that the team would take one can of fuel only and no tires.

"That has actually worked at this race for some other teams," Miller said. "Our car liked the set of tires it had on it. It seemed like it was about as happy as it had been all night. So that gave us the option to do that."

Miller said he knew that the fuel-only gamble had worked for teams before late in races at Charlotte - specifically for Kasey Kahne's team. Miller thought that Kahne, who'd won both the all-star race at Coca-Cola 600 in May, might go that way again and knew that to keep Burton in the lead he might need the same call.

Kahne took two tires on his final stop, but Miller was right to have his eye on the No. 9 Dodge.

Eventually, Kahne would wind up second and if there had been about five more laps he might have had a Charlotte sweep for 2008.

But Burton's first challenge after the restart was to hold off Johnson, the driver Burton and everyone else are chasing in the battle for this year's title. Johnson worked to Burton's inside after the restart and for the better part of three laps they battled hard before Burton finally won that duel.

Johnson eventually slid back to finish sixth, saying later he was counting points as each car went by him. When it was over he wound up 69 points ahead of Burton, who jumped two spots to second in the Chase with the win.

Greg Biffle, who finished seventh, remained third in the standings and is now 86 points back. Carl Edwards, second in the Chase when the night began, had a failure in his ignition system early and wound up 33rd to fall 168 points back in the standings.

Two years ago Burton left Charlotte with the Chase lead but blew an engine at Martinsville and opened the door for Johnson to win his first title. Last year, Johnson left Charlotte 68 points behind Jeff Gordon in the standings but started a four-race winning streak at the Virginia short track that carried him to his second championship.

Biffle certainly isn't out of this year's title hunt, but right now Burton is the driver with a little bit of momentum and, at least by all appearances, the best shot at blocking Johnson's bid for a three-peat.

"We're just having fun," Burton said. "We're paying attention to us. We're not going to get caught up in the points thing. If we don't win the championship our year is not a failure. ...We're just laying it out there, having a good time."

Related stories from Modesto Bee

  Comments