Keep Your Eyes On
January 12, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
While NASCAR testing continues in Daytona, CART, IRL, ASA, ARCA and World of Outlaws competitors are also prepping at tracks from coast to coast. It’s a critical time for a number of drivers who are hoping for big things in the coming year:
Jeff Burton – He’s already the early-season favorite for the 2001 Winston Cup Series crown. With four wins, 15 top-five finishes and more than $5 million in earnings last season, Burton is poised to make the leap from third to first in the championship chase. He led the way in Ford testing at Daytona this week and needs a good start to the season in February to continue the momentum built from 2000.
Tony Stewart – Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte’s title last season bodes well for Stewart, who led the circuit with six wins in 2000. With the experience of a championship season now under their belt, Stewart has an excellent chance to bring Gibbs back-to-back crowns. A little more consistency is the obvious missing ingredient in Stewart’s title quest.
Casey Atwood – The former Busch star will generate a great deal of attention as the young gun of Dodge’s return to Winston Cup racing. Under the tutelage of Ray Evernham, Atwood has a good chance to follow up Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth with another strong rookie performance.
Al Unser Jr. – Is he over the hill and heading for retirement, or will he regain his former brilliance and do what was expected of him last season in the IRNLS? Yes, his win at Las Vegas was heart-warming, but for “Little Al” to truly end his career on a high note, he has to do nothing less than win at Indianapolis.
Michael Andretti – After bolting long-time partners Carl Haas and Paul Newman for the “greener” pastures of Team Kool Green, Andretti will be under the microscope this season. His freefall last year from the points lead to seventh in the final standings must have weighed heavily on Andretti’s mind over the winter.
Alex Zanardi – Team owner Mo Nunn is hoping his “Wayback Machine” is working properly, and the former CART phenom can recapture his winning ways after a two-year absence. Despite his talent and renewed enthusiasm for Champ Car racing, it’s tough for anyone to win with a relatively new team.
Others to keep an eye on in the coming year include: Jeff Green (can he possibly be as dominant two years in a row?), Kurt Busch (trucks to Winston Cup is a pretty big leap for someone this young), Jimmy Vasser (being bounced by those two alphabet soup drivers at Ganassi Racing has put revenge clearly on his side as a motivating factor), Gary St. Amant (ASA keeps drawing more competitors, but this veteran continues to knock off all comers), Steve Kinser (can his mantle possibly hold another Outlaws championship trophy?), Tony Schumacher/Larry Dixon (can this duo overcome the physical and mental hurdles of last year’s terrifying crashes?).