Veteran Ward Burton gave the #0 Haas CNC Racing NetZero team one of its most encouraging performances of the 2003 season in Sunday's Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 despite failing to have the result to show for it at the end of the day.

Burton eventually finished 18th at the North Carolina Speedway on Sunday after leading 30 laps of what was a car breaking, tyre chewing 393-lap race at the colourful one-mile Rockingham oval.

In Friday's Bud Pole qualifying session for the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400, Burton posted a speed of 154.065 miles per hour during his two lap qualifying run, which was fast enough to grab the 13th starting spot for the penultimate event of the season.

Burton, who won his first NASCAR Winston Cup race in Rockingham in 1995, took the green flag for the start of the event and immediately began to patiently work his way toward the front of the field.

On Lap 25, Burton manoeuvred the NetZero HiSpeed Pontiac into fourth place, and on Lap 48 drove around Ryan Newman to take the lead. Burton remained in the top spot until ducking into the pits on Lap 78 during the first caution period of the day. The NetZero HiSpeed crew went to work changing all four tires and filling the tank with fuel, and Burton returned to the track in the second spot.

He remained near the front until a scheduled pit stop on Lap 240, when the pit crew again went to work, this time changing four tires, filling the car with fuel and making minor adjustments to the handling of the car in an effort to remedy a loose condition. Unfortunately, several laps later the caution flag flew before six of the teams had made pit stops, catching Burton and most of the other competitors at least one lap down.

When the green flag flew on Lap 254, Burton held down the 19th position, two laps down to the leaders. Another pit stop on Lap 324 resulted in the very same misfortune as Ricky Craven and Ricky Rudd crashed just one lap later, and the NetZero HiSpeed Racing team eventually took the chequered flag in 18th place, three laps down.

"The changes Tony (Furr, crew chief) made to the car after Happy Hour were right on," said Burton following the race. "Obviously we had a lot better car than what our finish shows. We had good stops and made good adjustments throughout the day, but got caught by stuff we just can't control. We may not look at the final results today and be all that happy, but I'll tell you, this team has a lot of things to look forward to down the road."

The NetZero HiSpeed Racing team will head to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race of the season next weekend. The team will spend Wednesday testing at the track to prepare for the Ford 400.



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