Burton chops down Little Trees field

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   CONCORD, N.C. -- Jeff Burton dominated, leading 130 of 200 laps to take an 19.493 second victory over Michael Waltrip in the Little Trees 300 NASCAR Busch Series race Saturday at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
   "Every now and then, you get in a car so good you just have to be careful not to screw it up," said Burton, driver of the No. 9 Gain Ford. "We've done that several times this year. At Darlington in the spring, we led every lap. It's not just something we just hit up on today. That's what makes this so special."
   Burton, who has been winless in Winston Cup races since last October at Phoenix, has found a perfect remedy in the Busch Series, where he leads the tour with five wins in 2002, including the last two.
   "It's important to do this when we've had a down year, a year where we've not been as good as we expected," said Burton. "From a driver's standpoint, it helps my confidence and it helps my team's confidence in me."
   Pole winner Michael Waltrip, who led two times for 44 laps, or anyone else could muster enough speed at the end of race to keep up with Burton. "That was ugly," remarked runner-up Waltrip. "He clobbered us. Next year, hopefully we will have better cars."
   Joe Nemechek took the third place spot, while Jeff Green held off his brother David on the last lap to finish fourth.
   "The first set of tires we ran good on," said Nemechek about his run. "Then we got extremely tight. I was trying just not to spin out on that last set of tires. Charlotte is the toughest track we come to about adjusting to the weather. Jeff spanked us pretty good."
   There were three distinctive grooves, but Burton was masterful using all the high, middle and low.
   Waltrip started from the pole and led the first 35 circuits before turning over the top spot to Jimmy Spencer in the first set of pit stops. Spencer only held the lead for 6 laps before Burton motored past.
   Burton continued to led until lap 87 when Waltrip reassumed the point with a move to the outside. Burton came back determined to make the low line work, but couldn't get around Waltrip.
   He could be patient as Waltrip had trouble again his next pit stop, when his car was hit from behind by Scott Riggs. No pit crewmen were hurt in the incident. Riggs' bad luck continued on the restart when he was involved in a nine-car pileup on the start/finish line eliminating him from contention.
   Jeff Green temporarily took the lead, but his advantage was short-lived as Burton passed him on the first green flag lap and never looked back.
   Driver turned television announcer Wally was impressive over the first 100 laps, making a charge from his 13th starting position up to fourth. He settled into a groove the second half of the race, posting a seventh-place run, his career Busch Series best.
   The race was slowed by only four caution flags for 18 laps, the first yellow period coming on lap 9 after the car of Johnny Sauter drifted up the track and made contact with Randy LaJoie's Chevy.
   Defending race champion Biffle came up short in his bid to score a second straight win in the fall event, finishing sixth. However in the battle for the series championship, he finished well ahead of closest rival Jason Keller, who came home 18th after running out of fuel. The series now heads to Memphis next weekend with Biffle holding a 168-point advantage over Keller.
   The day will be remembered as a showcase of Burton's dominance with his 20th career win. Only two other cars finished in the lead lap with Burton and his margin of victory was the greatest in any major NASCAR race this season.