Take Your Pick
January 31, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Never mind that Jeff Gordon had the most points, the most poles and the most victories last year. Pshah! He was lucky! And besides, that was last year. He’s won so many championships by the age of 30 that the law of averages is bound to catch up. Gordon couldn’t possibly win again, simply because they’re all good drivers. He has no chance this year. He couldn’t possibly win. Nothing that farfetched could possibly happen.
From an informal poll – and based on the way people were talking during the media tour and preview – there are at least this many drivers who can win the title: Gordon (I know, I know, it’s a long shot), Tony Stewart (you know, he’s not going to let himself be distracted this year), Sterling Marlin (he could have won it last year if a few things – OK, maybe a dozen – had happened differently), Ricky Rudd (he’s going to be better coming off that off-season surgery; in fact, he said he might have surgery every year, he feels so good), Dale Jarrett (he gets better with age), Bobby Labonte (he was right there at the end of 2001), Rusty Wallace (Bill Wilburn might give his team just the shot in the arm it needed), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (I can’t wait to hear tens of thousands of them grunting, “Jjjjjuuuuunnnnyyyyeeeerrrrr!” at once), Kevin Harvick (he did what no one’s ever done!) and Jeff Burton (he won’t get off to a slow start this year).
Those were the top 10 last year, and among them, it’s just a “pick’em.” There might be a 10-way tie. There might be a 10-way with a photo finish between three of them crossing the line side-by-side at Homestead. The nearby ocean may boil, which would really hurt marine life in the Everglades, but we’ll let the scientists figure that out.
But you can’t limit the race to 10. Oh, no … not on your life, buddy.
There’s Johnny Benson (once he wins a race, there’ll be no stopping him). And Mark Martin (he’ll be back, you can set your watch, bet your bottom dollar and quit your day job on that). And Matt Kenseth (hey, the sophomore jinx is behind him). And Ward Burton (a man who can win at Darlington can win anywhere and everywhere, by God). And Bill Elliott (with that seven-year run of bad luck behind him, he’ll have a lot of catching up to do this year). And Jimmy Spencer (he and Marlin will be perfect teammates; they might finish 1-2). And Jerry Nadeau (once that kid gets his act together, it’ll be Katie, bar the door, or maybe he’ll just kick the door in and yell, “Banzai!”). And Bobby Hamilton (he’s a racer’s racer, and when there’s racing to be done, don’t count a racer’s racer out). And Ken Schrader (he can drive anything with four wheels, and float your boat, if need be).
Elliott Sadler’s ready to parlay that Bristol victory into a championship. Ricky Craven is back with a vengeance after his Martinsville victory. For Dave Blaney, it was only a matter of time before he got the hang of wrestling these stock cars around superspeedways. Terry Labonte’s got Jim Long working for him now, and you know what that means, don’t you? That’s right. He’s back.
Michael Waltrip won the Daytona 500, and anybody who can win NASCAR’s greatest race can win, well, NASCAR. Casey Atwood’s ready to show the world he’s got “superstar” written all over him. Kurt Busch has talent, and there’s no substitute for talent. Unless it’s hard work, which is what Joe Nemechek has, that plus talent, and there’s no way to beat talent and hard work. Just ask Todd Bodine. He’s paid his dues, and with Nemechek as a teammate, you’ve got talent, hard work and, well, the dues are paid up, and you can’t beat that. Brett Bodine and John Andretti have racing in their blood.
Mike Wallace may not have a sponsor yet, but he’s coming off a hot finish in 2001, and it’s just a matter of time before the right sponsor comes along and vaults him right to the top of the championship race. Jeremy Mayfield is now with Ray Evernham, and we all know that whatever Evernham touches, turns to gold. Mike Skinner is driving for Larry McClure, and they were made for each other. The No. 4 Kodak car is going to be right back up front. You heard it here first.
Steve Park is going to wait until he’s good and ready, and when he is, it may be too late to win the championship but he’ll be right there.
Wait … there he is, in 32nd place in the 2001 points standings … Steve Park. He might not be ready for the Daytona 500. He probably won’t win the championship.
There’s one guy.