BROOKLYN, Mich. - Jeff Burton quietly worked his way into contention to win the NASCAR Winston Cup Pepsi 400 yesterday at Michigan International Speedway while a number of other hotshots took turns leading the race, often by wide margins.
There was Bill Elliott, until he experienced transmission problems, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and eventual winner Dale Jarrett, just to name a few.
But following a restart with 23 laps remaining, there was Jeff Burton in the lead, one he would hold until there were five laps left.
That's when Jarrett passed him, followed by Tony Stewart and Harvick. The reason? An engine leak that spewed water at every turn.
“We had some sort of leak in the engine all day - maybe a head gasket or something - I don't know what it was but I kept losing water,” Burton explained. “When we would come into the pits they would put water in it. That's what kept us going as long as it did.
“If it hadn't been for that, we would have never made it to the end of the race, so I'm proud of them for that. We had a great car from the second half of the race on and we'll just keep digging. That's kind of how our year has gone.
``Since May, I won't apologize to anybody for how we've run. We've run great. We don't have a lot to show for it, but we've really run well and we've got this team headed in the right direction.”
Burton has yet to win a race this season after finishing no lower than fifth in the Winston Cup point standings four of the last five years with a total of 17 victories over that span.
Since May he's had only one top-10 finish and is currently 13th in points.
Sterling Marlin didn't win again yesterday but continued to lead the Winston Cup point standings with no one able to mount a serious charge to unseat him.
Marlin finished sixth yesterday, following a 30th at Watkins Glen last week and 27th in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis the previous week.
His lead keeps getting smaller with more drivers moving into contention, but the competition is so tough that the points lead Marlin took at Rockingham, the second race of the season, looks more and more convincing all the time.
Marlin led Mark Martin by 53 points going into yesterday's race. That's down to 43 with Martin finishing fifth. Jarrett moved up from 12th to 10th with his triumph, trailing Marlin by 309 points with 13 races remaining.
“As far as the points deal, I don't know,” Jarrett said. “It's going to be a wild race to the end. I think it's highly possible for Jeff Gordon to still win the championship and not win a race this year. I can't imagine that he's not going to win at some point in time, but he could do that. They're that type of team.
“I think it's up for grabs for any of those guys that are in the top seven or eight.”
Gordon remained fifth in points, but dropped from 106 behind Marlin to 150 following his 19th-place finish yesterday.
Gordon, the defending Winston Cup champion, remained winless in his last 31 Winston Cup starts. He has now gone six consecutive races without leading a lap, the longest streak of his career without leading a lap. He previously had gone five races in his 1993 rookie season without leading a lap.
Stewart was asked if his controversy with a photographer following the Brickyard 400 two weeks ago at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has inspired the team.
Stewart was fined $10,000 by NASCAR and put on probation for the remainder of the season and $50,000 by his sponsor, Home Depot, which also put him on probation for the rest of the season. Stewart, reportedly, punched the photographer.42.11068 -84.24795