Icommentary:/I Dose Of Reality

There are contenders... and then there are pretenders.

Then there are guys like Kenny Wallace, who says he’s got some big surprises in store for the NASCAR Winston Cup world in 2001. I’m not even sure – understanding the reality of things with him - that even fits into a category.

We all know that Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrrett, Ricky Rudd, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin have the ability – and the teams – to contend for a NASCAR Winston Cup championship. All of the above have either won a championship or have been a top-five contender in the past.

But what about the Robert Pressleys, the Brett Bodines, the Robby Gordons, the Stacy Comptons, the Buckshot Jones’, the Ricky Cravens or the Andy Houstons of the Winston Cup world?

All have expressed their eternal optimism heading into the 2001 season, but then what driver -- trying to appease and keep his sponsor -- would be negative at the beginning of a new year?

Some drivers say they’ve got a chance to be a top-10 contender, and most say they might win a race or two. But let’s face it, the majority of the teams have as much chance of finishing in the Top 10 and winning races as Earnhardt does of going a full season without making contact with somebody.

The reality for any of those teams is more along the lines of trying to finish in the Top 20 in the points standings, and maybe winning a pole. For some of the aforementioned teams, a trip to victory lane might be in the cards sometime in the future, but don’t look for it to happen this year.

About the only surprise winner last season was Jerry Nadeau in the finale at Atlanta, but then many believed it was only a matter of time for the talented youngster to win a race. It just came sooner than some expected.

To emphasize the turn from reality in some cases, here are a few preseason comments from Winston Cup drivers… followed by what you should probably expect from them in 2001:

Buckshot Jones: “This is the best shot I think I’ve got. You know the Pettys are going to give you everything that you need to do well.”
Reality: Buckshot wasn’t close to making it the first time around in the Winston Cup Series, and being the new guy on a team that had drivers finish 23rd and 41st in points last year doesn’t create a much better outlook.

Kenny Wallace: “The cars look awesome, I’m really excited and I’ll probably be the surprise of the year in Winston Cup.”
Reality:The surprise of the year? With no sponsor for a team that struggled when it had one, and the Daytona 500 just around the corner, I wouldn’t recommend betting the house Kenny.

Ken Schrader: “We think we should run substantially better than last year.”
Reality: Even with a new teammate (Johnny Benson) moving into the same facility in February, that’s highly unlikely for the No. 36 team. Schrader finished 18th in the points a year ago, and to run “substantially” better would mean somewhere around 10th or 12th. Schrader hasn’t won a race since 1992, and the M&Ms team has never seen victory lane.

Todd Bodine: “We want to finish in the Top 15, and that’s a realistic goal. We can probably achieve more than that on any given occasion… In the end, we’re going to end up where we want to be.”
Reality: Only if around 27th or so in the points was where Bodine’s team wanted to be would that be right. Todd is younger than the guy who drove the No. 66 last year, Darrell Waltrip, but he hasn’t exactly burned it up in his two previous attempts at Winston Cup. He’s a good driver, but he’s not good enough to end up in the Top 15.”

Ricky Craven: “I’m lucky that I’ve got such a great, great opportunity here.”
Reality: Ricky is a super guy, and I have a lot of respect for him, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say his opportunity with the No. 32 team is a “great, great one.” Granted, Scott Pruett was new to Cup racing last year, but the Tide team had other problems than Pruett in 2000. Cal Wells was a great team owner in the open-wheel ranks, but running two Winston Cup teams is a handful for him. Look for Craven to finish anywhere from 25th to 32nd in points.

Robert Pressley: “Our team has caught up to the second group of teams now. On a good day, I feel like we could luck up and win a race. The new engine program we’ve got going for this year is going to be a big asset for us.”
Reality: If any single-car operation is going to win a race, it might be this one, but don’t count on it. Pressley has mounted some good runs with this team, but getting to victory lane is a bit of a stretch.

Mike Wallace: “We’re looking to have a great year.”
Reality: A great year for Wallace might be finishing in the Top 30 in points. Here’s another single-car team with little chance of winning a race. Just finishing races might be a respectable goal here.

Andy Houston: “I feel like I have some insight on what we’re looking for going into this season. We’re going to have a pretty good year.”
Reality: This team has a great sponsor in McDonald’s, but another rookie driver for Cal Wells and PPI Motorsports? See Scott Pruett’s performance of a year ago, when he finished 38th in the points and had 11 DNFs.

Robby Gordon: “It’s a relief to have a guy (owner Larry McClure) worrying about the business-end things so we can concentrate on going fast and making a very competitive race car. I’m looking forward to 2001.”
Reality: This team shouldn’t be as bad as it was last year with Bobby Hamilton - when it had 11 DNFs - but maverick Robby Gordon ain’t exactly the cure for what ails you. The Kodak team won’t get the picture in 2001.

There are a few teams not mentioned here, but you get the idea. Most of the ones mentioned above are single-car operations, and those are the dinosaurs left in the multicar-team-dominated world of Winston Cup.

God bless the drivers for showing some enthusiasm heading into the season… but then you can’t start out the year without at least some hope, right?

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