Jeff Burton proved that in Sunday's Food City 500 Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway, as he took the lead from Denny Hamlin after a restart on a green-white-checkered finish that took the race six laps beyond its posted distance of 500 laps.
Food City 500
Pos. Driver Make
1. Jeff Burton Chevrolet
2. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet
3. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet
4. Greg Biffle Ford
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet
6. Denny Hamlin Toyota
7. Kasey Kahne Dodge
8. Aric Almirola Chevrolet
9. David Gilliland Ford
10. Matt Kenseth Ford
Burton crossed the finish line .588 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick. Clint Bowyer was third, followed by Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
When Hamlin's fuel pickup burped in Turn 4 of the next-to-last lap, it set up a 1-2-3 finish for Richard Childress Racing teammates Burton, Harvick and Bowyer on the .533-mile concrete short track that was resurfaced before the August race last year.
The Childress drivers also benefited when Harvick took out the race's dominant car, Tony Stewart's No. 20 Toyota, on Lap 498 to set up the two-lap run to the finish. After a restart on Lap 496, Hamlin passed Stewart for the lead. A lap later, in Turn 1, Harvick nosed inside Stewart, slid up into the No. 20 and sent Stewart spinning into the Turn 2 wall.
Stewart had led 267 laps to that point but had to settle for a 14th-place finish. It was the third consecutive spring race at Bristol where Stewart led the most laps, yet failed to win.
"I thought I left him plenty of room," a crestfallen Stewart said. "I was far enough ahead of him that I didn't see where he hit me or when he hit me. But I'm sure, somehow, it's my fault."
Harvick said the mistake was his. "I just freakin' lost it," Harvick said on his radio after the accident.
"I got up on the inside and I just lost it," he added later. "I was trying to win the race. I made a mistake, and they can take it for what it's worth and go on."
The wreck set the table for Burton, who took over second place behind Hamlin after the contact between Stewart and Harvick. Burton had the distinct advantage of four new tires, as Hamlin, Stewart and Earnhardt had stayed on the track while other contenders came to the pits on Lap 491, under caution for Brian Vickers' brush with the Turn 2 wall on Lap 489.
After taking the green flag on the final restart, Burton rocketed past Hamlin, who slowed dramatically in Turn 4.
"I don't know what happened," said Burton, who claimed the 20th Cup victory of his career and his first at Bristol. "He stopped, and we nearly ran into him.
"We had some breaks, and we put ourselves in position to take advantage of those breaks, and that's what we did today."
Biffle remained second in the Cup standings but closed his deficit to leader Kyle Busch to 30 points, with Harvick and Burton 33 and 37 back, respectively. Busch, who started 22nd, was leading on Lap 291 when a sudden power steering failure sent him spinning off Turn 2 into the inside wall on the backstretch.
Busch finished 17th, two laps down.
To Burton, the victory was a kind of cosmic payback for finishing second last year, when he raced Busch to the wire like a gentleman in the first event featuring NASCAR's new racecar, resisting the urge to use his bumper to win the race.
"That's who I am, and I'm not going to change who I am," Burton said. "I could have had a trophy in my case last year by knocking Kyle Busch out of the way, but I chose not to do that. And [crew chief] Scott [Miller] and Richard [Childress] had to live with that choice."