Congratulations to Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports on the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Championship
The Top 10 by Sponsors for 2001
2002 NASCAR® Archive
Charlotte - UAW GM Quality 500
For many, the big Winston Cup news of the week was that Jamie McMurray became the third rookie to win in 2002 in only his second start. As impressive as that may sound, for me the truly amazing news is that Kyle Petty holds the longest streak of races without a DNF at 30. There's a Dodge Different ad for you. I don't want to take anything away from Jamie's amazing accomplishment but it is not so long ago that you didn't wonder IF Kyle's car would break but WHEN, and the serious money tried to identify which part would fall off first. The Petty organization, in spite of mostly mediocre finishes this year has improved vastly in the past couple of seasons and this statistic is all the proof you need. Kyle currently sits 21'st in points.
You might have thought that Bobby Labonte (2'nd) would have been happy with a second place finish in light of the performances he has had this year but he was clearly disappointed after the race. In a real role reversal it was fairly obvious to anyone watching that he did not appreciate Tony Stewart's boisterous greeting after the race. For a moment I thought he might even be tempted to deck him. No, not really, but it's pretty rare that you see Bobby riled up at all, let alone angry. He badly wants a win before this year is out. Count on it at Atlanta.
Lest anyone should accuse him of points racing Tony was very clear with his crew on the radio before the race was over. He was running for the win. Unfortunately for Tony though it appeared that he didn't have quite enough car to pull it off and he wore the tires out trying to catch his team mate and had to settle for third. Still he stretched his lead by about 20 points and goes into Martinsville with a 97 point lead. Tony has won at 4 of the last 5 tracks on the schedule.
This one may just be over.
Jeff Gordon was barely visible for most of this event but managed to collect his 10'th top 5 of the season with a 4'th place finish. He did not lead a lap and fell to 211 points behind Tony. With 5 races left that favour the Rushville Rocket I think Hendrick Motorsports better start concentrating on 2003.
Rusty Wallace is the fastest man not to have won race this year. He is a contender just about every week in this second half but cannot seem to close the deal. For my part I hope he gets one to extend his streak to 17 straight years with a win. Love him or hate him, that is an impressive stat. I expect he will be tough to beat at Phoenix and Rockingham but he will be an absolute bear next week at Martinsville. I'd put money on his extending the streak.
Jimmie Johnson (6'th) beat Ryan Newman (8'th) again this week but he has flat run out of time to overcome Ryan's Series leading 14 top 5 finishes. He can still break Tony Stewart's mark of 3 wins in a Rookie season but only a badly biased vote is going to give him the ROTY title over Ryan Newman. All of these unassailable records being broken leaves you wondering just what Jamie McMurray is going to be able to rack up next year in his rookie season. It's hard to say whether the pressure is off him now or whether it is really cranked up now. Either way, he's got some pretty big shoes to fill.
With his 7'th place finish Jeff Burton captured only his 11'th top ten of the seaon and led Roush contingent this week. It is unbelievable how poorly this team has performed given the level of funding and talent they appear to have. I'm not sure though that giving Frankie Stoddard his walking papers was the right move. I'm sure they will recover and contend again, but so will Frankie. Right now I would give brother Ward the better odds of becoming a Winston Cup Champion and Frankie just may be the difference.
Congrats to Jerry Nadeau for overcoming his 34'th starting spot to finish 13'th. It was obvious all weekend he had a fast, fast car. When qualifying rained out it must have broken his heart.
Richmond Night Race
The Chevy Monte Carlo 400 never did become the match race between Rusty and Jeff Gordon that everyone seemed to want, that was probably a good thing. Still, there were plenty of fireworks and they began early when the track appeared to be not quite ready for racing.
The first victim was Jeff Burton, who appeared to spin all by himself for no apparent reason. Points leader Sterling Marlin and his team mate Jimmy Spencer were caught up in it when they slowed to miss the spinning Burton. It appeared yet again that Sterlings run atop the points was over as he was done for the night but lady luck was not quite done yet. Jeff Gordon dropped out of contention very shortly afterward and Mark Martin never seemed to get past about 15'th until the end when he captured 6'th place. The result was that there are now only 82 points separating Marlin in first from Gordon in 5'th.
Matt Kenseth was the class of the field and proved it a few times coming back from two flat right front tires and being two laps down on one occasion to win in convincing style. Ryan Newman finished where he started in 2'nd place.
Jeff Green (3'rd) was once again the strongest RCR car on the track. I suppose that shouldn't be much of a surprise as he has considerably more laps in stock cars on the NASCAR tracks than Robby Gordon and Kevin Harvick put together. Still, many people didn't expect much more after his original trip to the big leagues which was hampered by poor equipment and poorer finishes. Jeff is one guy whose return to Busch saved his career rather than ending it. It is great to see a nice guy running so well.
Dale Jr. led the DEI contingent but Michael looked poised to benefit from stretching a pit run earlier in the event. After trapping most of the lead cars a lap down Michael was unfortunately wrecked out of the lead in a spectacular crash at the end of the back straight.
Todd Bodine was strong all night and finished 5'th despite a spin earlier in the event. One of the great things about the short tracks is that talent and preparation are considerably more important than cubic $ and this team is showing that they can get the job done in spite of limited resources. The truly amazing thing is that they have had some very competitive runs on the bigger tracks as well. In spite of their success though money is a prerequisite to running in Winston Cup, let alone running well and they are going to need a boat load of it in order to keep up everywhere. I hope Discover has come to the table with enough as this team deserves to show their stuff.
Ricky Rudd, Ward Burton, Dave Blaney and Jeremy Mayfield rounded out the top 10.
Bristol at Night
My favourite race of the year, every year. Even watching Jeff Gordon win can't change that. There will be 160,000 seats for next year and you can count on them all being full again. Makes you wonder why someone else doesn't build one like it.
Rusty Wallace was the class of the field as he so often is at Bristol but got caught behind the lapped car of Joe Nemechek allowing Gordon to close. At that point it was merely academic and Gordon punted him out of the way for the win.
Funny how when Jeff does it, it's just racin', but when Robbie Gordon did it to Jeff last year at New Hampshire it was dirty, uncalled for and disrespectful. I happen to agree with the latter, not the former, but Jeff Gordon has a lot of damn nerve making a move like that after his childish retaliation and very public tantrums last year at New Hampshire. I hope NASCAR moves to stop this kind of cheating in the near future. Take it for what it's worth, I'm no fan of any of the three of them, least of all Robbie Gordon.
Dale Jr. might have been the fastest car on the track at the end of the show. He was closing fast but ran out of laps. Still it was a good solid finish for a team that needs a bunch of them. Jr's remarks after the race made it sound like he and Tony Jr. have gotten over whatever has been holding them back since Daytona. If they are communicating the way they used to look for this team to be strong at Richmond.
Kevin Harvick's 4'th place run was unexpected, for me at least. The Goodwrench crew has struggled with mediocrity this year and Bristol is not a place where weak teams rise to the top.
Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch in 5'th and 6'th led the Roush contingent this week but earlier in the race both Jeff Burton and Mark Martin were strong as well. Burton was wrecked while running 5'th when he got into Dale Jarrett and Jeremy Mayfield's brouhaha and Mark was caught up in fellow championship contender Jimmie Johnson's wreck.
That wreck, initiated by contact between Robbie Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, may have been a pivotal moment in Sterling Marlin's drive for a championship as it was costly for his two nearest competitors. The result of it was that Sterling stretched his lead over mini-Mark with Johnson falling to 5'th. Gordon however closed to within 135 points as Marlin's 7'th place finish netted him only 146 points to Gordon's 185.
Tony Stewart and Ricky Rudd also had problems and dropped many points on the night.
Ho Hum 300 - New Hampshire
Why oh why does the Winston Cup Series have to go to this track more than once per year. Once in a decade would be enough.
While the concensus is that the Bahre family run one of the most professional, fan friendly tracks in the series the simple fact remains that the racing stinks; and it's not getting any better.
On the other hand, it is beginning to stink at lots of tracks with the dreaded aero-push that is prevalent virtually everywhere except Martinsville and Bristol.
Credit the Bahres though, who are reportedly some of the nicest people you would ever want to meet, with at least trying. Unfortunately the new pavement at the bottom of the turns only made it worse. They did manage to add a groove to the track, unfortunately the second groove was in the wall.
The racing was so boring today that I actually started this update with 45 laps to go, and I rarely ever get to it before Tuesday.
Kyle Petty was having a good run, coming from 37'th to 14'th before losing it in the marbles that also collected Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Park and Casey Atwood. If someone got under another car, the car on the outside had a simple choice - back off or wreck. Because of this there was almost no action at all between laps 80 and 280, and even then there was no real racing, just rooting and gouging for the most part. Stewart trashed a top 5 car.
Ward Burton was a surprise winner, although a popular one. It seems odd that the Daytona 500 winner would be a long shot anywhere but Ward really hasn't been strong anywhere since, including most of the race today. The bigger surprise might have been that his brother Jeff, a four time winner at New Hampshire, did not win.
Jeff Green grabbed second place after a spirited battle with Dale Jarrett. It's good to see him starting to enjoy some success. Jeff's last shot at Winston Cup Racing was in less than stellar equipment and I'm sure he feels like he has something to prove. It is ironic that he is in a team car to the late Dale Earnhardt as he took some heat in his Busch career for not doing more with his DEI Goodwrench Chevrolet. Robbie Gordon (7'th) and Kevin Harvick (9'th) completed the tri-fecta, with all RCR cars in the top 10.
Rusty Wallace is now the highest in the point standings without a win, taking that honor from Jeff Gordon by moving into 4'th in the title chase. Today's 4'th place run must have been a bitter disappointment for him as he was clearly as fast as anyone all afternoon. At the same time a top 5 is pretty impressive considering they had to stop under green for a left side tire going down. Team mate Ryan Newman followed him across the line for 5'th.
Todd Bodine grabbed his second top 10 in the last 3 races. Not only is the Discover Card sponsorship making a difference for this team but Todd probably has as many miles on this track as anyone and I'm sure that tipped the scales this week. All in all it was a great performance, too bad NBC didn't notice.
Sterling Marlin dodged a bullet in the title chase by beating his closest rival by 2 positions on the track but 14'th place finishes don't make championships.
He fared even better over Jeff Gordon who came home 29'th on the lead lap. Jeff's expected title run will have to wait another week.
Tropicana 400 - Chicagoland
RCR racing broke a drought today that was as surprising for it's happening at all as it was for it's duration. After an amazing rookie year in which Kevin Harvick scored a top 10 finish despite missing the Daytona 500 the Goodwrench crew has suffered this year. Team-mates Robby Gordon and Jeff Green have fared no better. It is interesting to note that while rumours have been rampant about imminent driver changes at upstart DEI there have been almost no similar reasons from the Childress powerhouse. Childress cars are supposed be be a threat EVERY week. The patience that Richard Childress is showing with his new drivers may be the very key to his long term success.
While I'm happy to see the Childress organization break their slump for the sake of Richard and his team members I can't help noting the similarity between Kevin Harvick and his predecessor, the late Dale Earnhardt. While conceding his outstanding talent I am left somewhat unimpressed with his win. I simply don't like his driving style and apparently neither do many of his peers. Jimmy Spencer very succinctly put it thus; "Harvick still drives like an idiot". Jimmy was referring to Harvick's overly ambitious move to the bottom earlier in the race in which he spun and nearly wiped out half the field. Luckily not many cars were damaged but Jimmy was caught up in the mess and was understandably upset. It was much too early in the race to be making a move like Harvick did to get around an obviously slower car.
I was really disappointed with Benny Parsons and Alan Bestwick though. They kept going on and on about what a fabulous job of driving Harvick did to save the car but that wasn't how I saw it at all. He went to low on the track and lost it, he came up the track and hit another car, then he proceeded to over-correct 4 or 5 times before finally looping it in turn 2. A better driver would never have gotten out of shape there in the first place and most would have slowed down so as not to endanger their fellow drivers. Not Harvick, if he wrecks that's YOUR problem.
I never thought of it before, but this tendency of the Goodwrench drivers might have a lot to do with why I drive a Dodge.
Jeff Gordon came up short yet again and extended his streak to 25 races without a win. It's amazing to me the amount of press this is getting. Pick any 25 races in Jeff Gordon's career, including the last 25 and they will show better results and more winnings than 95% of the drivers to ever strap themselves into a race car, let alone a Winston Cup Car. He's fourth in points, less than a hundred points back, and he's coming into a stretch of the season in which he and his extremely well prepared team have dominated year after year after year. Counting losses with this guy is futile.
Mikey Does it Again - Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway
With or without the help of his team mate Michael Waltrip was going to win this race and he did just that in convincing style with 99 laps led and some blistering fast pit stops. Congratulations to the NAPA team on a well deserved win.
As unlikely as it might seem on a night when the winner got just his second victory in nearly 520 starts, the real surprise was Rusty Wallace finishing 2'nd. I've always felt that Rusty was timid on the plate tracks after suffering some horrific wrecks early in his career, but he wasn't just fast tonight, he was ferocious. From a 37'th place starting position he moved into 11'th on the second lap and stayed up front the rest of the day. Passing 26 cars at Daytona in 2 laps is not for the faint of heart. On the other hand, perhaps it was fear that propelled him to the front so that he would miss "the big one".
Cagey veteran Sterling Marlin just keeps racking up the numbers in the tamest championship chase we've seen in a number of years. His teams quiet but, relentless success is consistently enough to hold the others at bay even if it is not very high in drama or flash. If they pull it off though it will be a year to remember for all who witness it, if only because they are redefining dominance to mean consistency, and it is paying huge dividends. It sort of makes you think of 1975 when Benny Parson's won the Championship without a single trip to victory lane. Besides, nice guys shouldn't finish last.
It was good to see Jimmy Spencer get a good solid run and a top 5 finish. With the way team-mate Marlin has run on the plate tracks the past two years it should have been expected that Mr. Excitement would contend for the win here and he did. I hope it gives his Target Chip Ganassi Dodge team some momentum for the second half but the truth of it is Daytona is unlike any track except Talladega and this team has struggled all year so I expect it will still be challenging for them.
Mark Martin is in familiar territory as his 5'th place finish keeps him 2'nd in points despite having more top 10's than Marlin and winning more money so far on the year. Mark has spent more time in 2'nd place in the points than anyone since Buddy Baker. You've got to think that this is his best shot ever. If you have to lose one before you can win one the Roush camp has paid their bill several times over and Marlin has never even been close before. Still, the odds seem to be with Sterling who has 2 wins to Mark's one and whose team appears bullet proof. Whether the eventual winner is one of these two or someone else, let's hope it at least comes down to the wire.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mikey reportedly had discussed that they would help one another win the race and that neither would attempt to pass the other and risk shuffling their team mate out of the draft. It didn't work that way but it probably did work out for the best. According to Dale Jr. Tony Eury Sr. told him over the radio that if he did not try to pass Mikey that he was not a racer, he also reminded Jr. of just how hard the Bud team members work to get him into victory lane. A combination of the two points took their toll on Jr's resolve and in my opinion, led to him doing the right thing, despite slippin to sixth after trying to pass Mikey. It is about winning, team-mates or not, and follow the leader shows are not only anti-climactic but they make people say that winner did not deserve the victory.
Well, let their be no doubt. Mikey earned this one and whether you agree or not Mikey also made it abundantly clear this week that he doesn't really give a damn. He didnt' believe the naysayers when they were down on him and he's not listening to them now as they clamber aboard the wagon.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the night though is the one getting the least amount of press and that is Todd Bodine's amazing run to 7'th place. This is obviously an underfunded team, and one in which you could reasonably expect a lot of stress and strife. Nevertheless, they not only brought a competitive car to the track but they delivered with solid pit stops and a great drive to the front. It was an impressive performance. The folks at Discover Card will do well by their association with this team.
Jimmie Johnson turned in another fine performance, maintaining 3'rd spot in the championship chase with his 8'th place finish. This kid is putting up better numbers than Jeff Gordon did and Ray Evernham is long gone. Be afraid Cup teams, be very afraid.
Whatever happened to Ward Burton and the Bill Davis Racing Caterpillar team? After winning the Daytona 500 they have suffered a terrible year that mirrors Michael Waltrips 2001 campaign. Mired in 24'th place in the standings, they trail ex-team-mate Dave Blaney by nearly 200 points. Their 9'th place run was only their 3'rd top 10 of the year. It would appear that the changes at BDR for this year, that brought perennial nobody Hut Stricklin and fickle sponsor Hills Bros. Coffee to the team are not helping out at all, and could be hurting. Rumour has it now that Hills Bros. are leaving at the end of the year, which can only add pressure to an organization that is already struggling. For my part, I hope Hills Bros. leaves the sport entirely. They appear all to willing to abandon ship at the first sign that they have not aligned themselves with someone who can contend every week. It makes you wonder just why they are so big on Hut Stricklin, who has made a career of doing less with more than anyone else in the series.
I have never seen such a ridiculous and dangerous display of immaturity at a track as we witnessed at the end of the race when a bunch of idiots started throwing things onto the track because it was going to finish under yellow. There is not much to them except to repeat that they are idiot's and unwelcome in any sport, or crowd for that matter. Unfortunately there is probably little you can do about it either. NASCAR® wants expand their draw beyond the traditional audience and unfortunately this is what they are going to attract.
The real problem as I see it is the media and some team members adding fuel to the fire by implying that the ruling was applied inconsistently with precedent. The final wreck occurred on the 138'th lap. If it was red flagged immediately and the cars were stopped on the track where they were, the best that could have been attained would have been a single lap dash to the flag which would have been disastrous as any real fan or "expert" would know. If the cars drive through the scene of a wreck, they have to have the opportunity to change tires which will take one lap for lead lap cars, one lap for cars that are a lap down and finally one lap to close up the field so that everyone is starting at the same speed. That would be 141 laps, in order to get one green lap they would have had to let everyone pit together or let no-one pit at all. They had time to red flag it in February, they goofed in Rockingham, but this time they got it right, so get over it.
Where they did screw up today was in throwing the caution for Tony Stewarts spin with 25 to go. He never stopped moving and there was nothing on the track. I think the favoured term for this tactic among the NASCAR® officials is "competition yellow", that's where they throw a yellow to tighten up the field and ensure "the big one" happens so that they can offer their new brand of fans (the ones' who throw seat cushions and beer cans onto the track) something that their competition (stick and ball sports) cannot. The spectre of a huge, grinding, potentially deadly crash.
Shame on NASCAR® and their new fans. Idiots.
A final note: There is simply nobody in racing with more class than Michael Waltrip. Not only did he acknowledge his mistake and apologize for taking Johnny Benson out and causing the wreck that injured Benson's ribs but he went to the hospital in the wee hours to check on Johnny and apologize in person. Most people would have been too busy partying and would have let that slide until the next day. Not Mikey.
MBNA Platinum 400 - Dover Delaware
June 5, 2002 - Jimmie Johnson has arrived and as Darrel Waltrip so eloquently put it on Friday night after qualifying, "this ain't funny anymore".
Imagine a rookie in second place in the standings this deep in the season. It is almost unthinkable and certainly unheard of. He and his entire crew should be immensely proud of their accomplishments. His win on Sunday capped an amazing run over the past 5 or 6 weeks where he has been the dominant car in just about every event and won two races on two very different tracks. Tony Stewart's rookie record 3 wins in a season is in dire jeopardy at the moment. This kid is HOT!!
Bill Elliott snagged his 3'rd top 5 in the last 4 races with a strong second place run. If this had been the MBNA Platinum 404 Elliott would have handed Dodge another win for sure. As strong as he has been running lately you have to think he is likely to snag another one before long. Michigan would be a good candidate, as would Daytona as long as all of the DEI cars break.
Jeff Burton took a turn at the top of the Roush heap this week with a third place run. Like Elliott, Burton was coming on like gangbusters late in the going but came up short. The strong finish though leaves him in eleventh in the standings, just shy of having 4 Roush cars in the top 10. What an amazing turnaround for this team in one year.
What an unbelievable turn of events involving Mark Martin. I cannot believe yet what I saw with my own eyes. It certainly outlines how hard it must be to drive these cars and how ridiculous it is to question the drivers abilities from the comfort of your couch. If an wreck can be avoided, Mark Martin will avoid it, he has spent the better part of 20 years proving it. Still, it appeared that he simply drove right into a wreck that could have been easily avoided. It reminded me of Kyle Petty's similar incident in the 1992 Daytona 500, a race he was also surely going to win.
It ain't over, 'til it's over.
NAPA Auto Parts 500 - Fontana California
April 28, 2002 - Wow! Kyle Petty qualifies 19'th and posts the third fastest time in happy hour !!! Maybe, just maybe ....
.... or maybe not. Jimmie Johnson won today in grand style, racing up front all day and using pit strategy to get to the point when it mattered. With the win today Jimmie Johnson has more top 10's than any other Winston Cup driver and is in 5'th place in the points race. How's that for a rookie performance?
Kurt Busch dominated all day and had more than a 30 second lead at one point but a caution closed things up and Jarrett beat him out of the pits. The lead was then held by Jarrett, Dale Blaney and Jimmie Johnson in turn while Kurt never really got it going again until about 6 laps to go. In any event, his second place finish moves him past teammate Matt Kenseth in the point standings, 143 behind Sterling Marlin who added a 7'th place run to his impressive sting of finishes this year.
Ricky Rudd looked like the man to beat at the end after taking two tires to Jimmy Johnson's gas and go but he never got the Yates horsepower hooked up for a serious charge and faded to 3'rd. Still, today was one of the better runs for both Yates teams with Jarrett in 6'th and both of them up front all day. It is not surprising though to see these cars up front at California. The track is so wide and smooth there are lines that have not even been discovered yet and both drivers are known for their ability to get lots out of a car by being smooth.
Bill Elliott and Mark Martin took 4'th and 5'th respectively in a race that seems to indicate a changing of the guard is at hand. With Rusty Wallace following Marlin across the line the results show that the top 2 drivers are in their 20's and the next 6 are over 40. These kids beat the contenders today.
Dave Blaney was having an amazing run, leading 25 laps in the late stages before fading to 9'th. It would have been great to see the Jasper Motorsports car win as he drove it up front and stayed in the lead pack all day. These guys are getting close.
Michael Waltrip had a good run today as well finishing 10'th. Mikey seems to be in his element on very fast tracks and this is definitely one of those. The surprising thing about todays run though is that he never got caught up in anyone else's misfortune as so often happens to him. Such a strong run and a good solid finish will have the NAPA boys pumped up going into Richmond. It is obvious they have a good car and a strong team.
According to the unofficial points standings following the NAPA 500 the Roush camp has 3 cars in the top 6 in points and the fourth, Jeff Burton in 12'th. What an amazing turnaround from last season. It has to be good medicine for Jack too, knowing that his organization is so strong. He has a lot to look forward to this year, I hope the anticipation speeds his recovery from his terrifying experience in Alabama.
Kyle Petty very nearly had another top 10 today and seemed a shoe-in for another top 15 but it appeared that the team struggled in the pits today as he lost positions on just about every stop. Kyle finished 17'th and is 22'nd in points. It is fabulous to even see him in the top 25 after the results of the past few seasons.
John Andretti, who is not too happy about being denied the chance to do the Memorial Day Double this year, was also running strong in the middle stages of the race but faded badly in the last 20 laps. With John's public expressions of displeasure it is imperative that this team get some good finishes under their belts or the team will be in danger of imploding. Without some drastic improvements I would say that there is a very real chance that either Greg Steadman or John Andretti himself are going to be gone down the road.
Since I have nothing to complain about from NASCAR this week I'll take a stab at Fox. While they do a great job of presenting the race from a technical standpoint and even just as pure entertainment, I wish they would put a little more effort into explaining what is happening outside of the top 10. It is frustrating to see your favorites only in the ticker moving across the top of the screen.
EA Sports 500 - Talladega
April 21, 2002 - NASCAR.com has it right with their Talla-DEI-ga headline. DEI Motorsports is unbeatable on the plate tracks. They are simply in a class of their own and Dale Jr. spent the afternoon proving it today. More than once Dale Jr. and Michael Waltrip were able to put the noses of their Chevy's in the wind and drive by traffic unassisted; a feat that is supposed to be impossible on the plate tracks. Their 1-2 finish is the 4'th in the last 6 restrictor plate races.
Jr's win moves vaults him to 5'th in the points from 9'th going into today's event. Mikey, who run's like a bear on the plate tracks but struggles just about everywhere else jumped 5 positions to 19'th.
Third place, and as the driver himself put it, "best in class" went to Kurt Busch and it was an impressive run to say the least. This was no fluke caused by the big one. Kurt was at the front all day, just as he was at Daytona. The plate tracks seem to agree with him.
Jeff Gordon may have led a few laps early in the event, but for the most part he was a non-contender. Still, you can never quite count him out when stealth and patience are the order of the day and he was there at the end to snag his 2'nd top 5 of the season.
A real highlight for me today was Kenny Wallace's fifth place run. It is just a damn shame that NASCAR® once again has misapplied a rule. Just like with Tony Stewart last year at Daytona, Kenny was taken below the line in a bid for position and the power's that be decided that he did it on purpose to improve his position. What a crock. He was fully beside Sterling Marlin, who had another car outside of him when they entered the tri-oval. The car on top came down, Sterling moved down and Kenny moved down. The alternative for him was to hit the breaks or stand his ground; either choice would have been disastrous.
NASCAR® has had 3 incidents where this rule has come into play and they haven't gotten it right yet. When Sterling moved under Jeff Gordon in the Daytona 500 he very definitely drove under the yellow line to do so. He was straddling it before he even got to Jeff's rear bumper. NASCAR® deemed that one a non-event since Sterling subsequently got himself penalized for the "fender job". They even went so far as to say that Sterling did it as a result of the accident (yes, the one some 15 cars behind them).
This is a stupid rule. For someone to keep from being penalized for it they have two choices. Hang back and don't pass or start rooting and gouging like some kind of 200 mph Enduro event. It would be safer to put a wall on the inside of the track, at least you can see a wall.
Kenny was demoted to a 21'st place finish, the last car on the lead lap. His misfortune however lead to the other major highlight in my afternoon and that was Kyle Petty's first top 10 in longer than I care to remember. This was a real McCoy, racing to the front top 10 too. Kyle qualified 12'th and was ahead of "The Big One" when it finally happened. He ran as high as fifth in the late going but never recovered from the single file restart with 6'th to go.
Again this week, the Sprint Dodge was the class of the Petty organization and better than the majority of the field. This is a whole new deal for me. I've been a Petty fan since I was big enough to push my own dinky cars around and it has not been easy to be me on Sunday afternoon's for the past few year.
Now that it is getting easier on me though, I'm starting to wonder what John Andretti is feeling on Sundays? I'm also wondering how many other people are wondering the same thing. I hope he gets something going soon with his team or there may be a shake up coming and with the recent comments regarding Kyle denying John's wish to run Indy this year it would seem that John's dedication may be in question. I hope not, John is a class act and it is easy to be a fan of his. Losing Robbie Loomis was a very big deal to this team.
I hope they get the void filled soon, I'm waiting for a 1-2 Petty Enterprises finish.
Virginia 500 - Martinsville
April 14, 2002 - If short track racing is not what the people want, then why was the Virginia 500 telecast only on pay TV? Perhaps it was because the Fox organization knows they would sell more subscriptions than they would if they had chosen Texas as the first Pay TV event of the year. If this is so blatantly obvious to someone as "unconnected" as I am then just why is it that short tracks are endangered species in this series? At the same time though I suppose it would be fair to ask just why there are only 86,000 seats at Martinsville? They need to add more, and soon, the "big dog" pack is circling ....
Bobby Labonte finally won a Winston Cup short track race. It's funny how some guys can win so much on the big tracks and yet take years to win on the bull rings where they cut their teeth. You would think it would be the other way around. In any event, it was a welcome and long overdue win.
Matt Kenseth continued his impressive run this season with a charging 2'nd place finish. This strong run, coupled with his win in Texas closed the gap between he and Sterling Marlin to only 27 points. Matt is piling up points faster than anyone right now and looks strong enough to continue the run indefinitely.
Tony Stewart's third place run is more on a par with what you expect of him week in and week and combined with his 5'th place run in Texas he has climbed within 147 points of Marlin in first. He sits fifth now but some unfortunate circumstances so far this year have dampered his championship hopes. I haven't counted him out yet though and neither should anyone else.
Dale Jarrett and his Yates Racing team mate Ricky Rudd are struggling badly this year. Between poor finishes and bad luck neither one of them have gotten much going in the way of momentum. Jarrett's fourth place run today moved him only as high as 21'st in the points. It has been years since he was mired this far back in the standings, this deep into a season. Rudd fared better with a 7'th place run in the race but dropped a position in the points to 10'th. Dale Jr's fifth place run moved him into 9'th.
The real surprise today was Terry Labonte's 5'th place run. Terry was strong off the truck, good in qualifying and raced up front all day. I should clarify, that it is no surprise for Terry to run well at Martinsville, but rather it was surprising to see him come to the track with such a complete package. In recent years the Kellogg's car has seemed like a poor cousin to the DuPont car. I'm sure they have equipment as good as anyone's but there has definitely been something missing from the equation.
Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch swept positions 8 thru 10 to produce another top 10 day for Roush Racing. That's 4 cars in the top 10 though - very impressive indeed. Roush Racing has definitely turned the corner from last year. It is a little surprising to see the youngsters leading the way but it may pay to remember that Mark Martin has never been strong in the first half of the season but he now sits in 3'rd place behind team make Kenseth. Busch is presently 6'th while Jeff Burton is 11'th.
Kyle Petty ran well all day, running as high as 14'th late in the race before fading to 20'th. There was no explanation on the FX broadcast as to what happened which was disappointing in light of Kyle's recent strong finishes and his refreshing candor with respect to Petty Enterprises.
I like what I'm seeing and hearing from him. He knows exactly where they are and where they are going and if you listen to what he is saying about the team you will realize that he is actually running better than he is saying they are capable of. The Sprint car is nearly there but the pressure is on John Andretti, Buckshot Jones and their teams to match the bosses performance of late.
Samsung Radio Shack 500 - Texas
April 8, 2002 - Thanks to Mother Nature and TSN's choice to not carry the rain delayed race in Texas I missed the race.
Food City 500 - Bristol
March 24, 2002 - Why doesn't someone build another Bristol? Surely it must be cheaper than building another 1.5 mile superspeedway; and it damn sure makes for a better show. Just ask the 150,000 or so fans that attended on Sunday, and they didn't even get to see the fights ...
Even with all the wrecks, this was still the best race this year, with the possible exception of Rockingham. It is no co-incidence that the Rock is also not a new "D shaped cookie". If someone finally does clue in, I hope they are a public company, because I want stock.
Kurt Busch may look like a little wimp, but let me tell you he is not short of courage when he straps on his Ford Taurus. Moving Jimmy Spencer out of the lead with the chrome horn is not the best way protect your status as a lead lap car but Kurt laid it to Mr. Excitement like they were at a local go-kart track. If the race wasn't exciting prior to that move it definitely got that way as Jimmy mounted a spirited charge to run Busch down. It's probably just as well he didn't catch him, but that doesn't mean it wasn't fun watching him try. In any event both drivers picked up their best finish of the season, as did 3'rd place Ricky Rudd and that in itself is one of the reasons I like the short tracks so much. Driver talent, teamwork and car setup means so much more here than at places like Daytona and Atlanta where cubic dollars can rule the day.
Dale Jr's 4'th place run was his 3'rd consecutive top 5 finish and vaulted him to 6'th place in the standings, 140 points behind leader Sterling Marlin. 140 points is about the difference between first and last in a race so while even I have been guilty of possibly ceding the Cup to Sterling after only 4 or 5 races it is evident that it ain't nearly over.
Bobby Labonte had a run typical of he and his brother at their best. You never heard from him all day and then boom, there he was in 5'th place when the checkered flag fell. These cool Texans have both made a career of doing precisely that.
In spite of Kurt's win, Matt Kenseth's DeWalt car continues to be the best Roush car on the track week in and week out. His 6'th place run today moved him into 2'nd place as Ryan Newman suffered some ill luck early in the event and dropped to 7'th place with a finish of 37'th. Matt is still joined in the top 10 by all three of his Roush Racing teammates.
Jimmie Johnson just keeps doing everything right and moved into 4'th place in the points with a quiet but effective 7'th place run at Bristol. This kid has as much poise as any of the phenomenal crop of rookies we have seen over the past few years. It can't be long before we see this kind of consistency pay off with a win.
Jerry Nadeau was a surprise in the top 10 at this bull ring, at least for me he was. It says something about the progress he and his team are making though that he is snagging finishes like that on tracks that are so different from his racing roots. It's good to see, Jerry seems like a classy guy, and anyone who works on the #25 Hendrick team needs a break every now and then.
How about Kyle Petty's run to twelfth place, his best finish in nearly 2 years. That is three weeks in a row for him in the top 15 and that is huge progress from where he was last year. Petty Enterprises teammates John Andretti and Buckshot Jones were not nearly so fortunate, both of them the victim of hits from behind early in the event. Call me biased, hell call me a fool, but if this keeps up I'll be looking for the Sprint car in victory lane in the second half of the season, likely at Dover or the Rock. top
Carolina Dodge Dealers 400
March 17, 2002 - If my prediction of Dale Jr. winning the championship is going to come true he has his work cut out for him. Sterling Marlin is going to be tough. Five races into the season, Sterling has two wins, three top fives and five top 10's. Today's win at Darlington was convincing. True, there were a number of contenders taken out in a big wreck with around 80 to go, but Sterling had passed all of them already on his march from 41'st place. Next week we get to see how he fares on the short track at Bristol, a place where he has won in both Busch and Cup. If his romp continues it may just be over before it ever gets started this year.
According to drivers quotes after the race Tony Stewart is likely going to be just fine although he took an awful hit in the big one. He was apparently out cold when Schrader got to his car but awake by the time they took him out. Thank goodness for the head restraints NASCAR® has mandated.
I had a problem with Jimmy Spencer's take on the wreck. In an interview afterwards he stated that he saw Stewart and Jones get together. I wonder if maybe he didn't see a replay. As far behind the leader as he was, if he did see it happen, he had no excuse for hitting Stewart at all, let alone as hard as he did. I've always been a Jimmy Spencer fan but that comment and the statistic shown during the race give a lot of credence to the statements of some of his detractors. (Jimmy now has 25 starts but only one top ten at Darlington). Not only that, but with the caution out what was Jimmy doing under Mark Martin anyways? I like how they do it at the local tracks. If the yellow comes out, line 'em up like they were at the end of the last full lap. This racing through a wreck is hard on men and equipment.
How about Elliott Sadler with his second runner-up finish of the season? He's not backing into them either as has been a contender every week. This strong finish will have the Wood Brothers team pumped for next week as they won the spring race last year at Bristol.
Kevin Harvick was geared up the last 50 laps of this race. Prior to the big wreck he was mired between 20'th and 25'th but ended up 3'rd. You can credit some of that to attrition but there were only 11 cars involved in the wreck so he must have earned a bunch of those positions. I'm not sure Dale Jr. would agree Harvick earned the last spot he gained though. He all but wrecked Jr. with 2 to go with a vicious hit to rear bumper of the Bud car. Earned or not though, it worked. Jr. finished 4'th.
You gotta love this Earnhardt kid. Lots of other drivers would have been hissing and spitting over Harvick's move but Jr. was simply elated with his first top 5 at Darlington. He had a similar sentiment last week at Atlanta. If he keeps showing this level of improvement he may just have something for Sterling before the end. Today's second place run moved Jr. into 10'th in the standings.
Ryan Newman (5'th) and Jimmie Johnson (6'th) are making a mockery of their rookie status with week after week of stellar performances at some pretty tough tracks. Both of these guys are unbelievably cool. The caliber of rookies in recent years has been nothing short of astounding but these two could just take it to a new level. When was the last time you saw two rookies in the top 5 in points five races into the season?
Congratulations to Kyle Petty on another fine run into the top 15. Like Harvick, he obviously benefited from the big wreck. He was around 32'nd at the time and appeared out of it but 32-11 is only 21 so he apparently passed at least a half dozen cars in the closing laps. I'm enjoying this progress. It's been hard to be a Petty fan on Sunday afternoons for the past few years.top
MBNA American 500 at Atlanta
March 10, 2001 - If Pontiac is truly at a disadvantage, Tony Stewart is not the driver you are going to prove it by. After falling out of the Daytona 500 he has come back with a 4'th, a 5'th and now a win moving him into 5'th in the points. The closest Pontiac pursuer is teammate Bobby Labonte in 18'th, in fact, the only other GM in the top 10 is rookie Jimmie Johnson who is about as adept at showing Chevrolet's weaknesses. This kid rocks, he spent the whole afternoon in the top 5 and came home in 3'rd spot to edge rookie nemesis Ryan Newman for the first time this year.
Mike Joy and ol' D.W. tried pretty hard to make the finish sound close but really it was Tony in a cake walk over Dale Jr.. That's not to say it wasn't a good race though, in fact, I'd say it was the best one this year. There were more than 30 lead changes and at least 5 cars with a solid shot at the checkers. Not only that, but for much of the day there were 3 Petty Engineering cars in the top 25 and that was an interesting new twist if the action up front wasn't enough for you. John Andretti was leading the Petty charge for much of the day but faded at about the 3/4 mark and ultimately wrecked. Buckshot Jones and Kyle Petty picked up the torch though and methodically worked their way into the top 15 by the end of the race. That must feel like a victory to many, many people in Level Cross. Perhaps they are about to turn a corner ......
Matt Kenseth was strong in the late going but a problem with the left front on the final stop had him too far back to challenge Tony but his 4'th place run along with Mark Martin's 8'th marks the 4'th consecutive week that there have been 2 Roush cars in the top 10 at the end of the race. Also of note, all 4 Roush teams are in the top 10 in points. Ironically, and in spite of the impressive overall performance of the Roush teams so far this year, Jeff Burton ran just terrible all day. It was a big surprise to see a team who have done so well on the 1.5 mile quad ovals of Texas, Las Vegas and Charlotte miss the setup so badly at Atlanta.
Ricky Craven is going to win some races this year. Like Jimmie Johnson's Lowes Chevrolet, the Tide Ford was up front and in the hunt throughout the race. The pit stops were good and the car was lightning quick at times, as it has been at every track so far. His 5'th place run today has him in 12'th place in the standings, which is only 74 points out of 2'nd.
Where the he double hockey sticks did Rusty Wallace come from at the end of the race? After spending the entire afternoon moving up from hit provisional starting spot he was on a rail in the last 15 laps. He wasn't just fast, he was suspiciously fast from what I saw. It might just be that 'old age and treachery' thing; Rusty's pace clearly picked up once he had rookie teammate Ryan Newman in his sights. I hope that is all it was, but for a guy who took only 2 tires on the last stop he sure had control of his traction at the end.
Sterling Marlin continues his streak as the only driver to finish in the top 10 in each race so far this year and as a result remains at the top of the points chase by a fairly sizeable margin for this point in the season. He is looking pretty stout. If he can pull that feat off next week at Darlington it could be over before it ever really gets started this year.
UAW Daimler Chrysler 400 at Las Vegas
March 2, 2002 - Sterling Marlin finally came out on the winning side of an arguable call this week and won the race going away. While slowing to pit he was punted by Jerry Nadeau and spun onto pit road. NASCAR® had reportedly intended to hold him for 15 seconds on pit road but did not communicate that message to the official in his pit soon enough so Sterling got off scott free. This very nearly qualified for my "Bad call of the Race" but in retrospect there would seem to have been little point in penalizing someone for having the misfortune of being spun. Indeed, had they penalized him at all, that would have been a bad call. For once NASCAR® was spared embarrassment because of their communication problems.
Jeremy Mayfield was strong late in the race after a two tire stop but could not hold off the Silver Bullet of Marlin and had to settle for second.
The Roush team continued to show their regained strength with rookie Kurt Busch (whom I called to win) running in the top 5 all day and Burton making a stirring run from the back of the field but the best finish on the day came from the veteran, Mark Martin in third. Busch faded at the end to 20'th while Burton managed to climb to 9'th from 39'th at the start.
Ryan Newman was up front all day as well, but unlike sophomore driver Busch he stuck it out for a top 5 finish. His 4'th place run today moves him into 2'nd spot behind Sterling Marlin in the Championship chase. That's heady stuff for a rookie but this kid seems to be made from some pretty solid stock. I wonder how long Rusty will keep liking this kid? He liked Jeremy just fine too, until Jeremy started kicking his ass on Sunday's .....
The big story of the race from my viewpoint was the Petty Enterprises team. While their finishes of 23'rd, 30'th and 36'th are nothing to write home about they each looked quite racey at different points of the race. Heck, just getting all 3 cars in the race has been a struggle at many tracks over the past couple of seasons, especially this track. Kyle especially was having a great run for much of the race but Fox never filled us in as to why he faded around lap 200.
Almost as surprising as the Petty teams performance was the lack of performance from Jeff Gordon's team, especially when you consider that his rookie team-mate finished 6'th. (Jimmy Johnson is going to fight Ryan Newman tooth and nail for the Rookie of the year honors). Gordon was never a factor at all today, nor was he last week at Rockingham. What an amazing difference a few short months can make.
It is not just Gordon who is noticing some differences from last year. There have been three races on three very different tracks. The top 10 in points right now would appear to indicate that Ford and Dodge have been quite successful at gaining concessions from NASCAR®.
This must be very hard on Dale Jarrett whose 7'th place run at Vegas was his first top 10 of 2002.
Subway 400 at Rockingham
Feb 24, 2002 - The Canada USA Gold Medal hockey game was pretty stiff competition but I managed to keep an eye on both. Credit Ricky Craven for keeping it interesting enough for me to miss team USA's goal to tie it at 2 and Canada's go ahead goal. After that though the Canadian in me surfaced. I never missed any more goals.
It seems Matt Kenseth reached a turning point at about the same time I did, coming to the front with a hundred or so laps left and never really being threatened thereafter. Ricky Craven's team gambled and lost on the last pit stop by staying out on old tires and fading to fifth, but they did serve notice that not ALL the races are going to be won by multi-car teams.
Sterling Marlin takes over the points lead with his 2'nd place finish. Sterling led early last year too but slipped mid season. He finished last year strong though so a good start was not altogether unexpected. The Dodge folks must be happy, even if Robert Yates and Richard Childress are not.
Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart are their own worst enemies when it comes to concessions for their marque. The Pontiac hasn't gotten any meaningful adjustments for a couple of years but it must be difficult for NASCAR® to justify any changes when they both continue to run so well, especially on downforce tracks like the Rock. Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart are obviously great drivers but I'll bet I'm not the only one to whom it has occurred that Greg Zippadeli and Jimmy Makar are worth a great deal of money. Wind tunnels don't lie, these cars are at a disadvantage but 3'rd and 4'th place at the Rock says that these cars handle quite well.
It was no surprise at the end to find Rusty Wallace in the top 10 but early in the going it appeared that brother Kenny wasn't going to bring the PennZoil car home any better than 25'th or so. Apparently the DEI crew had some trouble getting the car the way Kenny wanted it but they must have kept working on it as he quietly snuck into 10'th at the end.
Word is that Steve Park will be back very soon. That is great news, but I can't help thinking Kenny could really shine if he were given enough time to adjust to this situation. I imagine it is tough to tell the defending champions of a race that there setup is all wrong but if Kenny is going to enjoy real success in this car he's going to have to find the setup earlier in the weekend.
The big surprise in this race wasn't Matt Kenseth winning it was Mark Martin's dismal performance. Mini Mark used to own this track but on a day when 3 other Roush cars were in the top 15 Mark was never a factor. As Darrell Waltrip aluded to in the telecast that says something about the present organization that Roush and Martin have put together - and it's not good. If they don't run really strong next weekend at Las Vegas you can expect a major shakeup on the #6 team.
Bad call of the Race: By not throwing the red flag for debris with 6 laps to go NASCAR® has managed to contradict themselves in only the second week of the season. It seems that SOMETIMES, at the discretion of NASCAR® the race will be allowed to finish under the yellow, whereas at other times it will not. The challenge for the race teams is to figure out which ruling will apply on a given day.
Feb 17, 2002 - Wow, a whole week of jacking with the rules and not only did they still got a stinker of a race but they still had "the big one".
After the most boring and bizarre Daytona 500 I think I have ever seen I have to say the win by Ward Burton made all the difference in the world. Any Sunday that features a win by Ward is a good Sunday. Still, it is always disappointing when the fastest car does not win; and the fastest car was Michael Waltrip's by a mile. It looked to me as though the new rules pretty much took the passing out of the race, relegating him to a 5'th place finish.
The speed of the field went up and down with whoever was at the head of the line, but no matter if it was Shawna Robinson pacing the field at 182 mph or Sterling Marlin dragging the train at 187 mph, passing was kept to a minimum. There were almost no green flag passes for the lead and blocking was the order of the day.
Speaking of blocking, race cars should not have rear view mirrors on the side of the car. They have no purpose whatsoever beyond blocking, the results of which on a track like Daytona, can be devastating. At least those who tried it and got caught were man enough to admit their motive and culpability, but that doesn't fix the 18 cars destroyed in the first one.
Bad call of the Race: NASCAR® set a precedent in the Daytona 500 by going out of their way to not penalize Sterling Marlin for going under the yellow line when passing Jeff Gordon. Interpreting the rather bizarre ruling they gave to Wally Dallenbach it would seem that two wheels below the line is an infraction but since the yellow was out it did not matter. He was only penalized for trying to pull the fender off of his tire during the red flag period (oops). This means the following:
1. When racing back to the yellow flag it is OK to go below the yellow line. Or;
2. If you are fortunate enough to have an unrelated wreck happen behind you, you get a "go under the yellow line free card".
It may be a moot point as Marlin was penalized anyways but the fact is the caution was not out and in any event Marlin and Gordon had not taken the yellow at that point. Sterling went under the line to improve his position. Period. There should have been two penalties assessed or at the very least they should have said that the penalty of going to the back of the line was for both. The only other suitable explanation for not penalizing Sterling Marlin would be if they accepted the version offered by Sterling and Jeff Gordon; that Gordon ran him down there and he had no choice.
Actually, the precedent was set several decades ago. At any given moment, for no particular reason at all, NASCAR® will invent rules and stories which suit their own purpose at the time, whether they make sense or not.
And that is the biggest problem in this sport.
My 2002 Predictions
Feb 1 - 2002 - Every year I show how even a dedicated fan knows nearly nothing about this sport by posting my predictions for the coming year.
Daytona 500 winner -
Kenny Wallace - though it is really hard to not say Mikey again.
February 10, 2002 - Having watched qualifying and seeing how fast Kevin Harvick is through the turns I'm thinking he is going to be VERY hard to beat. Straight-line speed is almost irrelevant in the draft and the corners are where you set up the pass.
2001 - the year most race fans would rather forget, but we can't, and we shouldn't. Aside from the tragic events in the fourth turn of the last lap of the Daytona 500 here are some great things to remember about this year.
1. Michael Waltrip finally broke through and nearly repeated in July.
2. Steve Park followed up with one of the most emotional wins I've ever witnessed.
3. Kevin Harvick offered the greatest tribute to that point with a stirring win over Jeff Gordon by 6/1000'ths of a second to become the fastest winning rookie in the modern era.
.. all of this in the first 4 weeks
4. Elliott Sadler becomes the 3'rd first time winner in the first 6 races of the year
5. Bobby Hamilton takes Andy Petree to victory lane at Talladega. Andy had never won as a car owner.
6. Tony Stewart not only pulled off the double header at Indy and Charlotte but lead both races and finished in the top 6 of both. This guy could conceivably win both some year as he has twice finished in the top 10 in each.
7. Ricky Rudd returned the 28 car to victory lane.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Pepsi 400 in stirring fashion, evoking memories of his father and bringing closure to millions of race fans.
9. Dodge not only returned to NASCAR but returned to victory lane with Sterling Marlin (twice), Ward Burton and finally Bill Elliott.
10. Ricky Craven becomes the 4'th first time winner of the season.
11. Earnhardt Jr., with 2 wins, a second and an 8'th is the new, undisputed master of the restrictor plate tracks.
12. There was of course a 5'th first time winner which is fabulous but I have trouble celebrating the fact. Just call me a poor loser, like the winner at New Hampshire.
My 2002 Predictions
Feb 1 - 2002 - Every year I show how even a dedicated fan knows nearly nothing about this sport by posting my predictions for the coming year.
Daytona 500 winner -
Kenny Wallace - though it is really hard to not say Mikey
hmm, not doing so well, am I? - July 13, 2002
... and the year in review ? The racing was great, my predictions sucked.