Jeff Burton on the Darlington race that defined his career

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Jeff Burton has a Southern 500 victory, but his most vivid memory of the Labor Day classic is the race he didn’t win – and the ensuing tempest for months.

Missed lug nuts on a mediocre final pit stop cost Burton his first Sprint Cup victory at Darlington Raceway in 1997, but he still turned in one of the more memorable charges in the 65-year history of the 1.366-mile oval. Burton rocketed from restarting 11th with 29 laps remaining to pulling even with winner Jeff Gordon as the white flag began to wave.

That also was when the sparks began to fly.

Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet hung a left into Burton’s No. 99 Ford entering Turn 1, blunting its momentum. But Burton didn’t retaliate.

“We were so much faster, my thought was the worst thing I could do here was us wreck,” Burton recalled. “Because I’m going to beat him. So I lifted and gave him the spot, and I figured we were so much faster, when I came off Turn 2, I’d pass him down the back straightaway.”

He regretted the decision when he hit the accelerator and realized his tires had been covered by slippery debris after being forced low on the track by Gordon’s block.

“I didn’t have grip,” Burton said. “I didn’t have enough time to recover because it was the last lap. In retrospect, we should have went firewall deep.”

Gordon basked in the euphoria of earning a $1 million bonus from series sponsor R.J. Reynolds by virtue of winning the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 in the same season.

Burton brooded in the chaotic disillusionment of a near-miss that left team owner Jack Roush and crew chief Buddy Parrott fuming for different reasons.

“A lot of people don’t know this but when I’m in the gas trying to catch (Gordon), Buddy Parrott is on the radio screaming, ‘You go wreck that son of a gun!’ ” Burton said. “So when the race is over, not only do we lose the Southern 500, and Jack is irate and just ripping Buddy’s ass about the pit crew. Well, it wasn’t 20 minutes later we’re in the NASCAR trailer, and NASCAR is threatening to suspend Buddy because he was on the radio saying, ‘Wreck that son of a gun.’ So now Jack is mad about that. He’s mad the pit crew had a bad day and mad NASCAR is mad at his crew chief, but he’s taking all that out on Buddy. I’m in there trying to defuse the situation.

“Not only did it end badly, it ended badly again. That was probably the most animated meeting I’ve ever been in related to NASCAR and a crew chief, driver, car owner. It made for a long night.”

It continued as Burton rushed back to Charlotte to attend the Carolina Panthers’ 24-10 loss to the Washington Redskins in the season opener a few hours later. As he ascended the stairs at Bank of America Stadium, every step Burton took was another reminder of the race.

“I heard 20 times, ‘You should have wrecked him!’ ” Burton recalled with a laugh. “I hadn’t even been home yet. ‘Should have wrecked him! Should have wrecked him! Should have wrecked him! Should have wrecked him!’”

The chorus started anew when Burton arrived at Daytona International Speedway for the season-opening 1998 Speedweeks.

“The first day at Daytona, and I’m going through the (infield) tunnel,” Burton said. “The guard at the gate says, ‘Hey man, good to see you again. And hey you should have wrecked that son of a (gun). I’m like, ‘Hell, man, it’s another year!’ ”

Though angry in the moment, Burton eventually came to appreciate the finish.

“Jeff did what he needed to win the race,” he said. “He put a move on me that I didn’t respond to the way I ultimately should have. I did what I thought to give myself the best chance to win, and it wasn’t right.

“But what we did to get back to (second) was freaking phenomenal. That was one of the best drives of my career. So, would I have done something different now? Yeah, but at the time, I did everything I thought I needed to do. It was a great race. I don’t want to be too dramatic, but that race summed up my career. We never gave up and put ourselves in position but came up a little short. That’s kind of my career, which I’m cool with.”

Burton scored 15 of his 21 career victories from 1997-2000 while finishing top five in points in each of those four seasons. Many of his best battles were with Gordon, who won two championships during that span.

After being hired as an NBC Sports analyst, Burton joked with executive producer Sam Flood that he would emerge triumphant in his second career over Gordon, who will join Fox Sports next year.

“I said, ‘Flood, he beat me in a race car, he won’t beat me in the booth,’ ” Burton said with a laugh. “I’ve got to win something.”

The South Boston, Va., native eventually did win in Cup at Darlington – sweeping the 1999 season with two rain-shortened victories at the track.

“The odd thing about that year, if you look at the stats, we would go there and dominate,” said Burton, who also had four Xfinity wins there. “You always knew the 99 car was going to be a threat, but we couldn’t win the damn thing. We’d always do something stupid and not win. Then we won two in a row with rain.

“Not that the track owed us anything, but it was an example that you only remember the times you got screwed. You forget the times that things work out your way. It almost felt like payback in some crazy way.”

Burton’s other thoughts on Darlington:

On where the race ranks: “Nothing against the Daytona 500, but I always viewed the Southern 500 as the race. If you could win the damn Southern 500, that was a big deal. If you were a better driver or did a better job of getting your car to handle, you had a distinct advantage at Darlington. Winning Darlington meant a hell of a lot more from a prestige standpoint than winning Daytona. I took a lot of pride of running well at that track because it was the track that was the best test of your team and a driver’s ability to be successful.”

On moving back to Labor Day: “You play the Masters a certain time of the year. Certain things just belong. I think that’s when it ought to be. Some traditions you shouldn’t mess with.”

On attending the race as a kid with two older brothers: “My dad would take the motorhome and load it with kids and camp out and stay up all night causing havoc. We’d sit in the grandstand off what’s now Turn 2 and then Turn 4. I remember my ears ringing. I think sitting underneath that roof, your ears would just echo for days.”

On excelling at Darlington: “The only way to run well at Darlington was to attack it. That suited me. My 100% wasn’t as hard as other peoples’ 100%, but that 100% was the 100% you needed at Darlington. So when I was pushing as hard as I could push, that was all there was to get. Maybe at Michigan when I pushed 100%, maybe there was a little bit more. Darlington was a test of team and driver’s ability to push everything to the edge of what that track would allow. That track wouldn’t allow what other tracks would. You ran every lap as hard as you could. You hear people talk about saving tires. I never did that. I ran as hard as I could from the time they dropped the green flag until we pitted. That’s why I believe it rewarded better drivers with better handling cars.”

On why it was so difficult: “It was the tire wear and the degradation of speed. You would run a certain pace, and that was nowhere near what you would be at in a run in a little while. So understanding the change of speed is what made it difficult. Being able to be fast when it counted. A lot of people would take off running fast. But could you still be running fast at the end of 30 laps? You’d have to continually be looking for what was the limit your car could find to run the optimum lap time. It constantly changed. You have to constantly find the limit of the tire with the limit of the grip (at the track).”

Xfinity Series playoff standings entering first round

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The Xfinity Series playoffs begin this weekend with a 12-driver field set to compete for the championship.

The playoffs start Saturday night with a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric start the postseason tied after they each earned 50 playoff points during the regular season.

More: Las Vegas entry lists

The last four drivers in the standings are Ryan Sieg (2,002 points), Michael Annett (2,002), Riley Herbst (2,001) and Brandon Brown (2,000).

Here are the full playoff standings entering the Round of 12.


Cup playoff standings entering Round of 12

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The Round of 12 in the Cup playoffs has arrived following Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Eliminated from contention were Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney, Cole Custer and William Byron.

The second round begins Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

More: Entry lists for Las Vegas

Kurt Busch begins the round last in the standings with 3,0001 points.

Here is the full playoff standings entering the Round of 12.

Drivers in yellow are those who will compete in the Round of 12. Drivers in red were eliminated at the end of the first round.

Cup playoff standings


NASCAR entry lists for Las Vegas

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The Round of 12 begins this weekend for the Cup Series and NASCAR’s entry lists for Las Vegas Motor Speedway are out.

All three national series will compete at the 1.5-mile track as the Xfinity Series begins its playoffs and the Truck Series holds its second playoff race.

More: Bristol winners and losers

Here are the preliminary entry lists for Las Vegas:

Cup – South Point 400 (7 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

Thirty-nine cars are entered for the first race of the Round of 12.

Joey Logano won at Las Vegas in the spring over Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. This race was won last season by Martin Truex Jr. over Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.

Click here for the Cup entry list.


Xfinity – Alsco 300 (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-four cars are entered in the Xfinity playoff opener.

Daniel Hemric is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Austin Hill is entered in Hattori Racing Enterprises’ No. 61 Toyota.

Chase Briscoe won at Las Vegas in February over Austin Cindric and Ryan Sieg. This race was won last year by Tyler Reddick over Christopher Bell and Brandon Jones.

Click here for the Xfinity entry list.


Trucks – World of Westgate 200 (9 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

Thirty-six trucks are entered.

Ryan Truex is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 40 Chevrolet.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly will make his Truck Series debut in Niece Motorsports’ No. 42 Chevrolet.

Travis Pastrana is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 45 Chevrolet for his second start of the season.

Kyle Busch won at Las Vegas in February over Johnny Sauter and Austin Hill. Austin Hill won this race last year over Ross Chastain and Christian Eckes.

Click here for the Truck entry list

NASCAR 2020 schedule: Times, TV channels, stream info and tracks for Cup series

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The second round of the NASCAR 2020 Cup series playoffs will begin on Sunday, September 27 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

William ByronCole CusterMatt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney saw their championship hopes end last Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway where Kevin Harvick stole the show with his ninth win of the season. Harvick’s victory at Bristol marked a career-best milestone as his previous best was eight wins back in 2018.

Click here to see the NASCAR entry lists for Las Vegas 

    RELATED: Bristol Cup results, driver points report

NASCAR 2020 Schedule Playoffs – Round of 12

Sept. 27 – South Point 400

Time: 7 p.m.
Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Oct. 4 – YellaWood 500

Time: 2 p.m.
Track: Talladega Superspeedway

Oct. 11 – Bank of America Roval 400

Time: 2:30 p.m.
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL

Playoffs – Round of 8

Oct. 18 – Hollywood Casino 400

Time: 2:30 p.m.
Track: Kansas Speedway, 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 25 – Texas 500

Time: 3 p.m.
Track: Texas Motor Speedway

Nov. 1 – Xfinity 500

Time: 2 p.m.
Track: Martinsville Speedway

Championship – Round of 4

Nov. 8 – NASCAR Cup Series Championship

Time: 3 p.m.
Track: Phoenix Raceway


Daytona 500

Date: Feb. 17
Winner: Denny Hamlin

Pennzoil 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Date: Feb. 23
Winner: Joey Logano (video)

Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway

Date: March 1
Winner: Alex Bowman

FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway

Date: March 8
Winner: Joey Logano (video)

The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway

Date: May 17
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway

Date: May 20
Winner: Denny Hamlin (video)

Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Date: May 24
Winner: Brad Keselowski

Alsco Uniforms 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Date: May 28
Winner: Chase Elliott  (video)

Supermarket Heroes 500 – at Bristol Motor Speedway

Date: May 31
Winner: Brad Keselowski

Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Date: June 7
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway

Date: June 10
Winner: Martin Truex Jr. (video)

Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Date: June 14
Winner: Denny Hamlin (video)

Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

Date: June 22
Winner: Ryan Blaney

Pocono Organics 325 at Pocono Raceway

Date: June 27
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Pocono 350 at Pocono Raceway

Date: June 28
Winner: Denny Hamlin

Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at The Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Date: July 5
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway

Date: July 12
Winner: Cole Custer

NASCAR All-Star Race

Date: July 15
Winner: Chase Elliott

O’Reilly Auto Parts 500

Date: July 19
Winner: Austin Dillon

Super Start Batteries 400

Date: July 23
Winner: Denny Hamlin

Foxwoods Resort Casino 301

Date: Aug. 2:
Winner: Brad Keselowski

FireKeepers Casino 400

Date: Aug. 8
Kevin Harvick

Consumers Energy 400

Date: Aug. 9
Kevin Harvick

NASCAR Cup Series Race at Daytona Road Course

Date: Aug. 16
Chase Elliott

NASCAR Cup Series Race at Dover

Race 1

Date: Aug 22
Denny Hamlin

Race 2

Date: Aug. 23
Kevin Harvick

Coke Zero Sugar 400

Date: Aug. 29
William Byron

Playoffs – Round of 16

Date: Sept. 6 
Kevin Harvick

Date: Sept. 12
Brad Keselowski

Date: Sept. 19
Kevin Harvick

For more on the NASCAR 2020 schedule, news and information, read NASCAR Talk