DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Just like the guy who signs his paychecks, Jeff Burton wasn't supposed to be standing in Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway.
The owner of Burton's car, Jack Roush, has never been considered a trendsetter when it comes to building cars to run at Daytona and Talladega, the two tracks where restrictor plates are used to slow speeds.
They both figured something out Saturday night in the Pepsi 400.
Holding off challenges from some of the biggest names in racing -- Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace -- Burton looked like a savvy veteran at NASCAR's most famous track over the final, harrowing 50 miles.
It helped having a car that could win on a fast track, an asset Roush Racing hasn't produced in a while.
''Restrictor plate racing is the hardest thing to win in racing,'' said Burton's crew chief, Frank Stoddard. ''You have to figure out how to make the car go, you need to utilize the body just right, have good pit stops, make sure the gears and motors work. The last three or four years, we've just worked harder and harder on it.''
So, Roush won his first stock-car race ever at Daytona and his first restrictor-plate race since Mark Martin's 1997 victory at Talladega.
Martin later said the only reason for that victory was because his team found a slight aerodynamic edge that everybody else figured out within a month.
Burton has reason to believe this breakthrough might last longer.
The victory capped a natural progression at Daytona -- from third last July, to second in the Daytona 500 in February, to first over the weekend.
''It's been a steady climb with the restrictor program,'' Burton said. ''We still need to get better, we need to be openminded, we need to make changes. But everyone is feeling pretty good right now.''
And truly, racing technology was only part of the equation. There was a human element, too.
Besides Burton's unflinching driving, the gamble that might have won the race was Stoddard's decision to change only two tires and save time on the 105th lap, the final time the drivers pitted for full service.
Earnhardt and Jarrett each took four tires, figuring improved handling would serve them well toward the end of the race. As they drafted together, moving from eighth and ninth place to second and third with 20 laps remaining, it seemed they were right.
But Burton held his line, even with two worn tires. Suddenly, Stoddard looked like a genius, simply because he wanted the lead going into the home stretch.
''I'm only surprised that more people didn't take just two tires,'' Stoddard said. ''It seemed to me that, other than Jarrett, it was a huge track-position night.''
Indeed, Jarrett might have had the strongest car in the field. But trouble with a lug nut during that final pit stop pushed him from the lead pack all the way back to 29th.
His strong car, combined with two more yellow flags -- including one with six laps to go after an accident involving Jimmy Spencer and Dave Blaney -- allowed Jarrett to make his way back toward the front.
He didn't have an answer for Burton and so, his quest for three straight victories at Daytona went unfulfilled.
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