Weekend Warriors Take A Break

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NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers and teams are faced with daily problems, much like anybody else who holds down a full-time job. But this weekend is presenting a problem that’s welcomed… what to do on a rare weekend off from competition.

Some will race elsewhere, like Ken Schrader, but for most drivers the last place they want to see is the inside of a race track after being on the road the past 12 straight weeks.

For most members that make up the cast of characters on this NASCAR road show, the upcoming weekend is something they had better savor.

When the Daytona 500 kicks off the 2001 season in February, the addition of two new race dates means there will be 38 races, including two non-points races in Daytona and Charlotte. So from February until late November of next year, all the members of the Winston Cup community will have weekends off only three times.

So if you see somebody that looks like a NASCAR superstar this weekend, do a double-take, because you just might really be seeing one.

"When we get a weekend off, it's almost like you need two weekends, because the first one you're confused," John Andretti said. "You don't know why you're not doing something. Our pastor wonders why we're in church. That's how he knows when we get a weekend off."

Mark Martin says he’s going to get out and enjoy the great outdoors for a while with his family.

"I’m going to go camping with my family,” Martin said. "My son Matt really enjoyed the last time we slept in a tent outside, so I thought we would do that again. He’s not racing his quarter-midget Friday night, so we both have the weekend off from our racing schedules."

Ask Martin’s Roush Racing teammate Jeff Burton what he has planned, and he says that can be summed up in one word -- nothing.

"I'll tell you what I'm doing that's special this weekend, and that's staying at home with my family," said Burton, who will spend his first free weekend with a newborn son. "It's definitely going to be nice to spend some time with Kim, Paige and little Harrison because it's so rare that we ever get it. I haven’t spent a weekend at home since Harrison has been born. It's something I’m really looking forward to."

Jeff Gordon says he’s in the same situation as Burton, just planning on doing a little relaxing with his wife Brooke, which doesn’t seem like too bad a way to spend a couple of days.

"With the very few number of off weekends we have, I try to mark days off on the calendar to go take a vacation, get away and relax," Gordon said. "It's getting tougher and tougher all the time. There are more demands and there are going to be more races next year. Trying to do the same number of appearances and things I have for my sponsors next year, when we have less time to do them, is going to be tough.

"But to me, one of the most important things I do throughout the offseason is planning and scheduling ahead and making sure I have enough time to do the things I'm required to do like testing, racing and the things for the sponsors and fans. And also making sure I have enough time to get away and relax and trying to balance it out. That's the most important thing."

Andretti agrees that part of playing the game in Winston Cup is to fulfill as many sponsors’ obligations as he can from the drop of the green flag at Daytona until the checkered in Atlanta.

"For me, the end of the season comes, but my life doesn't stop," Andretti explains. "I don't think I get a breather. I'm just not in a race car. I'm involved in racing to drive race cars - not because I'm excited about doing PR work, doing other things and standing in front of a camera smiling for a photo shoot or something. That's not why I got into racing. For me the job never changes because your job is more than driving the race car, so why not do what you love?

"Then again, you can't do it week-in and week-out because of your family. I haven't made it to one of my son's soccer games. So that gets pretty frustrating for me. I go and I get to race. I'm lucky that I get to do what I love for a living, not to say that I wouldn't rather be at home. But if I'm going to go on the road for three days, I want to do three races."

And while many of the veteran Winston Cup drivers have marked their schedules off for this weekend, some of the younger guys just haven’t got that part down to a science.

"Vacation? I don't have time to think about vacation until Thanksgiving," jokes Winston Cup newcomer Kurt Busch, who will wrap up his Craftsman Truck Series career this weekend in California, before finishing out the last three Winston Cup races of the year. "I'm testing at Homestead this week, and then fly directly to Fontana for the truck finale. This has been one of the busiest months in my life, but it's something we feel we need to do to better position ourselves going into 2001.

"I have booked a vacation at the end of the season, but until then I'm running flat out, living, breathing and sleeping racing."

And when the Winston Cup Series returns to action next Sunday at Phoenix, so too will 42 other drivers. Some vacation.

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