By David Morgan, Associate Editor
There have been plenty of weird and quirky moments in NASCAR history — then there’s the 1999 Transouth Financial 400 at Darlington Raceway.
Having been delayed once already due to rain, Mother Nature had one more trick up her sleeve with 130 laps remaining in the race, leading to one of the most bizarre finishes in recent memory.
As Jeff Burton led the way over Jeremy Mayfield, the skies darkened and rain started falling again as the leaders made their way off Turn 4 and onto the frontstretch on lap 163. Just then, cars started spinning due to the moisture on the track, eventually collecting six cars in the process.
Among those involved was Burton, along with Kenny Wallace, Kenny Irwin, Jr., Jerry Nadeau, Ernie Irvan, and Jeff Gordon. Despite an impact with the outside wall, which caused a significant amount of damage, Burton’s car remained drivable enough for him to keep the lead and bring the field to a stop under the red flag for the rain showers that were enveloping the 1.366-mile track.
“That car is torn up, man,” exclaimed Roush Racing team manager Buddy Parrott while looking to the sky. “It’s got the right-front knocked off of it and he’s already broke the inner-liner. The Good Lord willing, we’re going to win this race. That’s all I can say. It looks like it’s coming down. Doesn’t it feel good?!”
Burton got out of his car and examined the damage before throwing his arms up in the air at the situation that had just unfolded before his eyes. After a chat with crew chief Frank Stoddard, who had made his way from pit road out to the car to join his driver, Burton explained his point-of-view of how everything transpired in the final moments of the race before the crash.
“I saw the wreck and I got slowed down, but there must have been something on the race track because I got slowed down and it just kept going straight and hit the wall pretty hard,” Burton said. “It’s tore all to heck. It wasn’t like I ran up on it and was surprised by it, I saw it. They wrecked off of Turn 4. I slowed down, went to turn, and it just went straight.
“It was getting so dark, I couldn’t see, so it’s possible I was out of the groove. I don’t know, but we’re praying for rain pretty hard. The Exide Ford is really fast, but it’s torn up bad now. So, if it doesn’t rain, we’ll finish last and if it does rain, we’ll win.”
A short time later, Burton’s prayers were answered when NASCAR officially called the race, making Burton the winner at Darlington for the first time in his career. Jeremy Mayfield would be credited with a second-place finish, followed by Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin rounding out the top-five.
“I have to tell you I’m a little speechless,” Burton said after the call was made to end the race. “To win Darlington means a lot to me. To win like that, I don’t know how you do it much better than that.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun driving that torn up thing into Victory Lane. We might have to get a lift gate to get it on there, but we’re going to take it however we can get it. We had a great pit stop. It got us in front of everybody. We made the right calls on the car and that got us the win. We’re having luck right now.”
Burton assumed the points lead after this race and would return to Darlington later in the season, scoring the win in the Southern 500 over his brother, Ward Burton, in a race that was also brought to an early end due to rain.