In a sibling rivalry, Jeff Burton had the last laugh in Las Vegas
With 13 laps left in Sunday's Las Vegas 400, 31-year-old Jeff
Burton was running side-by-side at 185 mph with his brother
Ward, 37, for the lead, with Jeff Gordon closing fast,
threatening to make it three wide. So how did the younger Burton
deal with the situation? Why, he started laughing, though he
couldn't hear himself over the roar of his Ford Taurus's engine.
"I started thinking about my other [middle] brother, Brian, and
my parents. Can you imagine being them, sitting at home,
watching this, wondering what in the world is going to happen?"
said Jeff after winning the race and $336,590. "I was almost
feeling sorry for them. That's what I thought was pretty funny."
For three laps the Burtons remained side by side. "I wasn't
giving him an inch," said Ward. "I was trying to crowd him as
much as I could without wrecking him."
Still fresh in each brother's mind was an incident that occurred
12 years ago at their home track in South Boston, Va., when both
were semipro Saturday-night racers. "We got into a wreck
together," said Jeff. "To this day, we each say it was the
other's fault. It got ugly. It turned into a shoving match
[after both climbed out of their wrecked cars]. We embarrassed
ourselves. The worst part was, Mom was mad at us. Now and then,
you learn from doing stupid things."
So Jeff's laughter also was partly attributable to nerves,
because "the thought of embarrassing my family terrifies me.
We're from a small community. Everybody knows us. We're on
national television. For us to wreck with a few laps to go would
be ridiculous. I'd rather finish second--I'd rather finish
40th--than for us to wreck together."
As it turned out, the pressure from Gordon was such that with 10
laps remaining Jeff Burton felt it was time for what he
described as "a last-ditch effort" to wrest the lead. So he
drove hard into Turn 1--"actually a lot harder than I wanted
to," he said--and his car maintained its grip on the track.
After his Taurus took the lead upon exiting Turn 2, it went
unchallenged the rest of the way.
"I'm pretty disappointed," said Ward, who has only one career
Winston Cup win to Jeff's six. "If I've got to lose to anybody,
I'd rather it be to my brother, but that's still not much
From Gordon's vantage point, Jeff Burton's car was so superior
that even while the brothers were side by side, the duel "was
wearing out Ward's tires but not Jeff's," said Gordon after the
race. "I thought I might have a chance to beat Ward, but I knew
nobody could touch Jeff. He was in a different zone today."
Viva Las Vegas
RACING CAPITAL OF THE WEST?
If new Las Vegas Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith has his way,
Vegas will soon become the same sort of mecca for motor sports
that it is for boxing. And what Smith--who controls more NASCAR
tracks (six) than anyone else--wants, he usually gets.
Smith paid $215 million for the three-year-old Las Vegas track
plus 1,500 surrounding acres in December 1998, and new speedway
president Chris Powell is already working to get a CART race in
2000. If he's successful, Las Vegas would be the only track to
host events on the CART and archrival IRL circuits, as well as a
NASCAR Winston Cup race. The sprawling grounds are also the site
for competitions involving NASCAR Craftsman Trucks Series and
Busch Series cars, World of Outlaws sprint cars and American
Motorcyclist Association superbikes. A drag strip is under
construction and is considered a shoo-in to host a major
National Hot Rod Association event upon completion this fall.
Tracy's New Policy
PATIENCE AND A GOOD CAR
CART bad boy Paul Tracy, who is banned from the season-opening
Grand Prix of Miami on March 21 because of the last of his 10
rough-driving citations in 1998, says that he's going to be more
patient this year.
"It's been hard to swallow," says Tracy of being the first
driver banned from a CART event. "Last year I never really got
the car [a Honda-powered Reynard] the way I would have liked it.
We typically qualified from 12th to 20th, and when you start
that far back, you've got to take more chances to work toward
the front. It wasn't as if other people were willing to let me
go by. Every position was fought for."
Tracy, who has been dubbed Captain Crunch by his peers, finished
13th in last year's point standings and didn't add to his 13
career wins. Now he says his Kool Green car has tested well this
winter, and the handling is very close to the way he wants it.
"We can qualify toward the front," he says, "and when you're
near the front, you can sit and wait for the right opportunities."
The number of Formula One races in which Eddie Irvine drove
before getting his first victory, in Sunday's Australian Grand
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS O'MEARA/AP Even while battling for the lead, Jeff (99) and Ward were also trying to avoid a family wreck.