Surprises Keep Coming
March 26, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Well, of course they are. And why not? In this strangest of Winston Cup seasons, we're coming to expect such National Enquirer-style headlines.
Elliott Sadler's win at Bristol, in any other season, would be an upset. This year, it's just another week and another surprise -- which, when you think about it, is no surprise at all.
What's next, a win for Junie Donlavey? Lights at Indy? Steady employment for Robby Gordon? Leftovers on the pressbox lunch table?
NASCAR's big boys go to Fort Worth this coming weekend to run Texas Motor Speedway. Is there any doubt that we'll see another first-time winner (hey, Mike Skinner, any time now, pal), and, in another Texas shocker, perfect weather and actual traffic flow?
On the other side of the coin, this season has thus far been just as remarkable for who hasn't won. Can someone please explain what's going on at Roush Racing? The Roush stable is slumping faster than Dow Jones (no relation to Buckshot) and heading south faster than hormone-driven spring-breakers.
Actually, a little credit for Sadler's win does belong to Roush, since a working agreement between Roush and the Wood Brothers makes the No. 21 Ford something of a satellite team for the Roush group. At this point for Jack, victories with an asterisk are better than nothing.
It only got worse Sunday at Bristol, with insult added to injury. You keep waiting for the Roush luck to bottom out, and Sunday it did (we think), when Jeff Burton blew a tire, bounced off a wall and veered right into the path of Roush teammate Mark Martin.
Martin would finish 34th, Burton 40th. Both, however, were better than rookie stablemate Kurt Busch, who finished 42nd. The fourth teammate, Matt Kenseth, finished 14th.
"My car was really tight and I lost the right front," Burton said. "It took two of us out in one shot. I had a pretty good car. It's been this way this year. We'll come back and kick some ass. I told Mark I was sorry. It's bad when you wreck but it's worse when one of your teammates is with you. That's the way this year has gone."
The wreck brought a premature end to a long weekend for Burton. He spent some time at Bristol trying to slow the rumor mill. It's funny what a slump will do to a race team. In Burton's case, it got people talking about him possibly leaving Roush Racing to drive for Richard Childress.
"There are worse things in the world than being in a rumor," Burton said. "Richard Childress and I have not had a single conversation about me driving for him in the future."
What Burton said next, however, was just enough fuel for a future rumor wildfire.
"If I were in the position to want to go somewhere or needed to go somewhere because my car owner didn't want me to be there anymore, Richard Childress Racing would be a place that I would love to go because I respect what they've done for a long period of time."
There, that settles that.
Even with the surprise victory by Sadler, perhaps the biggest story to come out of Bristol was the frustration being shown by drivers over NASCAR's reluctance to tweak the aerodynamic rules for next month's Talladega race. The drivers simply don't like being put further into harm's way for the sake of a good show. They've feared and loathed the two restrictor-plate tracks (Daytona and Talladega) for years now, but the Dale Earnhardt death put some over the edge.
For a change, some drivers aren't just being vocal, but public with their concerns.
"This is just another case of where nothing has been done over something that should be done," Bobby Labonte was quoted as saying this past weekend. "It shouldn't come to the point where the drivers have to say, 'Hey, we all need to do something about this.' It should have already been done."
The hottest rumor has some sponsors giving the OK for their drivers to skip Talladega if they desire. Labonte, the reigning Winston Cup champion, confirmed that people are indeed talking.
In this year of the improbable, the unthinkable, and damn-near impossible, what's a little driver strike among friends? Hard to believe this year could get more interesting, but it might be coming. Stay tuned.