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 consolation."
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
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