Point Me To The Finish Line

Clearly, something just short of a miracle will have to happen for Bobby Labonte to lose the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup championship… but that doesn’t mean the points battle is over.

With a 210-point lead and only four races to remaining, Labonte is almost certainly a lock to win his first Winston Cup crown. Several other drivers, though, are fighting for pride and every point they can get over the final few events.

Whether it be for second, third, 10th, 20th or 25th place, the competition will certainly be intense at Rockingham, Phoenix, Homestead and Atlanta.

Don't expect any of those drivers to give an inch in those races.

The battle for second place is an intriguing one. Should Dale Earnhardt not be able to catch Labonte and win his eighth Winston Cup title, he'll have to hold off Jeff Burton for third. Burton trails Earnhardt by 98 points for the runner-up position, and both have fared well recently on each of the remaining tracks.

Then there's the scramble for fourth, which could very well come down to the checkered flag on Nov. 19 at Atlanta. Heading into Sunday's Pop Secret 400 at North Carolina Speedway, defending Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett leads Robert Yates Racing teammate Ricky Rudd by a mere 33 points. Jarrett trails Burton by 94 points for third place.

"We've been working really hard over the second half of the season, and we're still hopeful we can get as high as second," said Rudd, who is still looking for his first victory in 2000. "It's going to be tough to jump over some people, especially guys like Jeff Burton and Dale (Jarrett).

"Bobby's pretty much got the championship locked up, but it would be great if the two Robert Yates cars could finish 2-3, or even 3-4. That would give us a tremendous amount of momentum heading into next year.

"In order for us to do that, however, we're probably going to have to win a race. I've won at Rockingham and Phoenix and Atlanta in the past, and we've only run Homestead once. So, it's still a great possibility we can make it to victory lane before the season is out."

Stewart lost ground with a disappointing finish at Talladega Superspeedway last Sunday. He’s looking forward to the final four events, however, harkening back to the fact that he posted victories at both Phoenix and Homestead a year ago during a phenomenal rookie campaign.

"We want to keep the Home Depot Pontiac in the Top 5 for sure," Stewart said. "There's nothing that says if a couple of guys in front of us have a bad day that we can't capitalize on it and make our situation a little better. We need to just go out and do our job the way we feel like we can do it."

Mark Martin, who sits in seventh place in the points, is waiting for Stewart to falter again. He's only 65 points behind Stewart for sixth. Then there's Rusty Wallace, who's only 44 points behind Martin for the seventh position.

The other two top-10 positions are fairly secure, although they could flip-flop before the season ends. Jeff Gordon leads Ward Burton for the ninth spot by 62 points. Burton leads 11th-place Mike Skinner by 274 points.

The top-10 drivers will make it on stage at the postseason Winston Cup awards banquet in New York in December.

The race for the 20th position is a hot one. Bill Elliott currently holds down that spot, but by only two points over John Andretti. Jimmy Spencer is only 46 points out of 20th place in the 22nd position, while 23rd-place Jerry Nadeau is only 14 points behind Spencer.

You don’t think that means there’s going to be some serious bumping and grinding throughout the field?

Michael Waltrip said he and his team have quite a bit at stake over the final few races. The driver of the No. 7 NationsRent Chevrolet, who gets behind the wheel for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., beginning next season, is currently 27th in the points standings. He's 44 markers behind Robert Pressley and 69 points behind 25th-place Chad Little. He'll need to make up 111 points to overtake Jeremy Mayfield for the 24th position.

The Winston points fund pays off to the first 25 spots in the standings, so there is the financial element involved for Waltrip.

"For me, it's the Top 25," Waltrip said. "That's about all we can do now that has a 'milestone' ring to it. Finish 25th and you win some postseason money. Finish 26th and you don't get anything. That doesn't necessarily add a lot of pressure, but you do want to finish as well as you can finish. That's the reason we're all running to begin with.

"Just about everybody is chasing points right now. It's not just the guys at the top. It's everybody all the way through the deal. The guys who are 50th want to finish 40th. The guys who are fifth want to finish first."

The Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award is still certainly up for grabs, but Matt Kenseth is beginning to get more of a stranglehold on it with each passing week. Kenseth leads Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 265 to 238 heading into Rockingham. Dave Blaney is a distant third with 188 points.

The past two years, Earnhardt Jr. edged out Kenseth for the NASCAR Busch Series championship, so winning the rookie title might take a bit of the edge off of those disappointments.

"You try not to think about stuff like that, but somehow, it still bothers me sometimes," Kenseth said. "It's not that winning the rookie deal would make up for that, but it would take some of the sting out of it. Junior and I are great friends and we've always had that friendly rivalry going. But the rookie award would be something special because it's something that comes along only once. You can't try to win it again."

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