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Jeff Burton slipped by Mark Martin with 5 laps to go to win the Checker Auto Parts / Dura Lube 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway. Burton had one of the fastest cars all day, but he needed a little luck and a late caution to over come a broken jack in the pits to claim his fourth victory of the year, and his very first win at not only Phoenix, but also for his new sponsor, CITGO.
Rusty Wallace and his Penske powered Ford Taurus set a Bud Pole record on qualifying Friday, and if the start of the race was any indication, it appeared that Wallace and team mate Jeremy Mayfield were ready to run in the dessert sun.
Early cautions were brought out first on lap 36 when Scott Pruett spun, and again on lap 51 when Bobby Hamilton and Matt Kenseth ran over debris and cut tires.
With the Checker Auto Parts / Dura Lube 500 being measured in kilometers instead of miles, only 312 trips around the 1 mile raceway were needed to make the distance, and by lap 100 it was Jeremy Mayfield showing the way with Jeff Burton in close pursuit, Rusty Wallace and Steve Park were trading paint for third and fourth.
With a fuel window of about 75 laps, green flag pit stops were on call starting at lap 125. Mayfield had taken the lead on lap 88 and headed for the pits on lap 128, but he Jeremy had stretched his lead one lap too many and ran out of fuel coming down pit road. As his pit crew tried desperately to refire the engine, car after car passed Mayfield. When the car finally fired after being pushed most of the way down pit lane Mayfield was in 24th position, one lap down.
By the time the cars had cycled through their pit stops the leader board showed Steve Park in the lead with Jeff Burton once again giving chase. Rusty Wallace kept a grasp on third, while Bobby Labonte and Ricky Rudd had crept into the top five.
The third caution of the day was brought out when Rich Bickle cut a tire. As the leaders were headed back to the start finish line Mayfield beat Park back to the line to unlap himself, but in the end he would fall just short of the win, and would finish the race in second place, never really in contention to challenge Burton for the win.
Rich Bickle brought out the fourth caution of the day on lap 202 when he cut a tire and brushed the wall. After the flurry of pit stops by the leaders, Rusty Wallace left the pits with the lead with Ricky Rudd in tow; Jeff Burton, Steve Park and Bobby Labonte followed the duo.
Burton retook the lead on lap 232 and kept it until Ken Schrader cut a tire and hit the wall, this brought out the 5th caution of the day. But this wasn't to be a routine pit stop for Burton, as a broken jack forced the crew to scramble lose valuable time. Burton would leave pit road in 6th place, relinquishing the lead to Ricky Rudd.
Rudd had been tough all day, seldom out of the top five and now that he was at the point he was fast. With 50 laps to go Rudd started opening up a lead over second place Rusty Wallace. Lap after lap Rudd slowly extended his lead over Wallace, but Burton was closing the gap, and with 20 laps to go Burton moved past Wallace into second, but would there be enough time to catch Rudd? With only 16 laps to go, that question was answered.
On lap 293, Rick Mast cut a tire coming out of turn two and was trying feverishly to bring his car down the track; unfortunately he had cars passing him, low, and directly from the rear. As Mike Bliss raced down the back stretch the cars in front of him swerved left and right and before he could react he slammed into the back of Mast. Rudd saw the collision in front of him and went low, but as he did the Viagra Pontiac veered left directly in front of Rudd, and Rudd hit him solid, ending any hopes of putting the #28 Yates Ford in victory lane.
This would open the door for Burton, and all the leaders, except for one, pitted for an 11-lap shootout. Mark Martin stayed on the track, and gambled that they would have a better finish sliding backward from first than they would have had trying to make up ground from the back. Martin was right, as he lost the lead the lead to Burton after only a few laps, but he only lost a few more places to finish in 6th place.
As Burton took the checkered Jeremy Mayfield was in hot pursuit, Steve Park had another great race and finished in third, Rusty Wallace finished fourth and point's leader Bobby Labonte finished in fifth place. Rookie Dave Blaney had a career best 8th place finish.
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