Jeff Burton celebrates in Victory Lane on Sunday following his first win in 29 starts at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
BRISTOL, Tenn. — For Richard Childress Racing, dominating Sunday’s Food City 500 was as easy as 1-2-3.
Jeff Burton got around leader Denny Hamlin on the first lap of a green-white-checkered finish and picked up the victory with Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer close behind, giving Childress his first 1-2-3 finish in a Sprint Cup race.
“We put ourselves in position and that’s how you win these races,” said Burton, who won for the first time in 29 starts at Bristol. “We had good pit stops, good strategy and we did all the little things well.
“When you do all the little things well, sometimes the big things take care of themselves.”
“Bristol’s a tough place sometimes to even finish and to have all three cars 1-2-3 was great,” Childress said. “I’m really proud of all three teams.”
Burton couldn’t get around Kyle Busch during a green-white- checkered finish in last year’s Food City 500. This time, the South Boston, Va., native caught all the breaks in the final laps.
“I thought, ‘Oh God, not this again,’” Burton said. “But things work out sometimes — sometimes they don’t — but today it did.
“A lot of people questioned my move last year in not taking out Kyle. I still believe I did the right thing. That’s who I am, I’m not going to change who I am. Those things come back to you.”
Burton moved into second place when Harvick spun out Tony Stewart with one lap to go, bringing out the caution for the 10th and final time. Green-flag action resumed on the 505th lap.
Harvick said he was on pace to catch Hamlin, but the contact with Stewart in between turns one and two cost him a chance to race for the win.
“It was mine to lose at that point and I lost it,” he said.
Burton darted under Harvick, although he bumped doors with his teammate. On the final restart, it took Burton only half a lap to get around Hamlin, who quickly fell off the pace.
“We were either out of fuel or it was a fuel pickup problem like we had here last year,” Hamlin said.
Before Brian Vickers got into the wall to bring out a caution on lap 485, it looked to be a three-car race to the checkered flag involving Stewart, Harvick and Hamlin.
During the ensuing caution, Harvick gave up second place, leading everyone on the lead lap into the pits for fresh tires — except for Stewart, Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In the end, the new rubber trumped track position; the Childress cars steamrolled to the front of the pack on the final lap as Hamlin and Earnhardt hung on for dear life.
“(My crew chief) made a great call to come in and get tires,” Harvick said. “I just lost it there underneath Tony. He did it at Indianapolis and I did the same thing here.”
This marked the third straight year Stewart led the most laps in Bristol’s spring race and failed to win. He led 267 laps but limped to a 14th-place finish after the spin.
“I don’t know, I thought I left him plenty of room,” Stewart said. “I was far enough ahead of him that I didn’t see how he hit me or where he hit me.
“I’m sure somehow it was my fault. I’m just sorry I got in the way.”
During the post-race news conference, Harvick was asked a couple times to go into more detail about the wreck, but he said the incident was self-explanatory.
“I’ll answer one more ignorant question,” Harvick said. “Lost the car, hit the side of Tony — that was pretty much the end of it.
“If you can’t understand that, I don’t know what else to tell you.”
For Bowyer, the third-place finish wrapped up a great weekend in Bristol. After winning the Nationwide Series race Saturday, Bowyer led 81 laps early Sunday and came home with a solid finish.
“I’m finally starting to figure this place out,” Bowyer said. “I’m a slow learner, but we had a good night last night, had some luck (today) and just raced hard.”
With the 1-2-3 finish, Childress now has all three of his drivers in the top 10 in the points standings. Harvick sits in third, 33 points behind leader Kyle Busch, who finished 17th after a power steering problem. Burton is in fourth place, four points behind Harvick, while Burton moved up seven spots to ninth.
Greg Biffle finished fourth to remain second in points while Earnhardt rounded out the top five Sunday and moved up to fifth in the points standings.
“We worked real hard today,” Earnhardt said. “I’m pretty proud of my team — they really did dial this car in.”
Earnhardt was ahead of Burton at one point — as were several cars — but in the end, Burton led the two laps that mattered most.
“I won’t lose sleep tonight because somebody says ‘We had a faster car,’ ” Burton said. “All I know is we got a trophy.”