Ward Burton, in his debut with Haas CNC Racing, drove the NetZero HiSpeed Pontiac to a 13th-place finish in Monday's rain-delayed Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, scoring the team's best finish of the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup season.

49 cars competed for 43 starting spots on Friday afternoon during qualifying for the 33rd round of the 36-race NASCAR Winston Cup Championship. Burton posted a speed of 189.305 miles per hour around the 1.54-mile oval during his two-lap qualifying run, which earned him the 29th spot on the starting grid.

Unfortunately, during the first practice session on Saturday morning, Burton made contact with the wall and the team was forced to bring out the backup car. As a result, Burton was sent to the rear of the field for the start of the event Sunday.

Under the threat of rain, the green flag flew for the start of the event Sunday afternoon. Despite encountering a tight handling racecar, Burton patiently worked through traffic and broke into the Top 25 by Lap 31 of the 325-lap event.

Unfortunately, rain began to fall over the speedway and NASCAR officials ordered the yellow flag be thrown. The caution period enabled crew chief Tony Furr to direct Burton into the pits for four tires, fuel and air pressure adjustments to his fresh Goodyear tires. The NetZero HiSpeed team shot off a 14.9 second pit stop and sent Burton back out onto the track, picking up two spots in the process.

Heavier rain continued to fall and on Lap 40 the red flag was displayed. Though NASCAR and Atlanta Motor Speedway officials made every effort to dry the track, the showers did not let up and after a five-hour rain delay, teams and fans were told to return the following morning to complete the event.

Under continued overcast skies, the green flag flew once again Monday morning. Burton continued on his mission to the front and by Lap 61, found himself in the Top 15. Burton once again informed the NetZero HiSpeed Racing team that the car was tight, resulting in adjustments to the car during a routine pit stop on Lap 92. Several laps later, before the entire field had made pit stops, the caution flag flew, leaving the team one lap down and in the 25th spot. Continued adjustments were made to the car at every possible opportunity and Burton remained steadfast in his desire to get back on the lead lap.

The team's big break came when the yellow flag was thrown on lap 224. Burton was the first car one lap down and therefore, thanks to new NASCAR rules; he was awarded a free trip around the pace car. Burton lined up on the ensuing restart as the last car on the lead lap, in 22nd.

Burton picked off his competitors one by one in the final 100 laps and took the chequered flag in 13th place. The finish was the best of the season for the Haas CNC Racing team and earned the team $74,125 for its hard work. Burton also picked up one place in the driver point standings and now holds down the 20th position.

"That was just what the doctor ordered for this NetZero HiSpeed Racing team," commented Burton. "This was our first time out and we were in a backup car, so we've got to be pretty proud of that. The car got pretty tight on a couple of runs, but Tony [Furr] made good calls and the guys made great adjustments all day. If we'd had that last caution flag about 30 laps earlier, I think we would have finished in the Top 10, but we'll take this 13th place finish, be satisfied with our first race together and keep working hard to make this into something we can all be proud of week in and week out."

The NetZero HiSpeed Racing team will head west to Phoenix International Raceway for the running of the Checker Auto Parts 500 on Sunday.

 

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