Winners And Losers Of 2001

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Now that the Winston Cup Awards Banquet is over, all the checks have been handed out and all the silly thank you speeches have been made, I present the “real” awards. Place tongue in cheek as soon as you can, for I have.

(Insert disclaimer here) And, please, don’t get mad if I insult your favorite driver. This is all in fun. Mostly.

Dale Earnhardt Award (best driver): Jeff Gordon. Let’s see. Who can we blame it on this time? Ray Evernham? Nope, he was wearing a Dodge hat. NASCAR? Uh, uh, they were too busy fixing – just kidding – too busy worrying about other things. Chevy? Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the next highest Monte Carlo man, and he was eighth in the final standings. Rick Hendrick? His other drivers were Jerry Nadeau and Terry Labonte – enough said. Jeff Gordon? You got it. The guy can flat drive a race car.

Richard Petty Award (second best driver): Kevin Harvick. Say what you want about the guy, but he stepped into an impossible situation when Earnhardt died and performed at the highest level. Harvick won two races, could have won a couple more and ended up ninth in points – ahead of 16 drivers who raced more times than he did.

Tighe Scott Award (worst driver): Michael Waltrip. Sorry, folks (and that includes my sister), but how can you go from winning the Daytona 500 to finishing 24th in the points? Sure, he had some bad luck, but DEI doesn’t make bad cars. Twenty-fourth. That’s worse than Terry Labonte, for goodness sake’s.

Wrigley Field Award (best track): Kansas Speedway. When International Speedway Corp. puts its mind to something, it can produce results. Yes, Kansas is a cookie-cutter 1.5-mile track, but I don’t care. Easy in, easy out. Organized infield. Beautiful facilities. Plenty of TVs. No traffic. Good barbecue (the lamb ribs at Fiorella’s Jack Stack melt in your mouth). Let’s have more races there. I’m hungry.

Veterans Stadium Award (worst track): Homestead-Miami Speedway. If it wasn’t for the awesome weather and terrific back-road access, this track would be an absolute waste of time. A friend called it the “world’s biggest pastel-colored (expletive) hole,” and he’s not too far off. ISC needs to spend some more money here. Put some banking in, build a bigger media center, and put the main office on the FRONTstretch. OK?

Fan’s Choice Award (favorite track): Bristol Motor Speedway. I’ll never understand why ISC or Bruton Smith doesn’t build a half-mile, high-banked track ANYWHERE. I saw a field on my way home the other day that’s perfect. Shoot, you probably saw a field on YOUR way home that’s perfect for Bristol West (or East or South or North). Traffic is horrendous, the parking is bad, and Bristol isn’t exactly a tourist trap. But so what? The track is awesome.

Four Leaf Clover Award (luckiest driver): Joe Nemechek. We think Nemechek should announce he’s leaving a team every year. Two seasons ago, he left the Sabco Racing team, and then won late in the year. In 2001, he said he was leaving Andy Petree’s team, and then won late in the year. And the victory at Rockingham was his only top-five finish of the season. Think the No. 33 team guessed right on a setup that day?

Wile E. Coyote Award (unluckiest driver): John Andretti. Maybe we should call this the Human Magnet Award. If there’s a wreck, Andretti is in it. It’s darn near a miracle he only had three DNFs all season. Of course, in 35 races, he finished on the lead lap seven times. Andretti showed he had some speed, qualifying 11th or better nine times. But he finished 11th or better only twice, and none in the final 33 races. He deserved better.

Dumb and Dumber Award (worst decision): Robert Pressley. He left the Jasper Motorsports team because he wanted a better ride. Jasper quickly snatched up Dave Blaney, and as other Winston Cup seats were filled, Pressley is likely on the outside looking in. Can you say Busch Series, boys and girls?

Dumb and Dumber Award, Part 2: Shutting down the No.12 team. Let’s see if we’ve got this right: Mike Wallace has two Top 10s – including a near-win at Phoenix -- in the final eight races, while Rusty Wallace has zero and doesn’t come within a mile of winning, and they shut down Mike’s team?

Hung Out To Dry Award (they got screwed): Tie, Casey Atwood, Jason Leffler. Atwood performed admirably in Evernham’s Dodge in the latter third of the season, but what does he get for it? A one-way ticket to the No. 7 team. Thanks! Leffler was overmatched in Winston Cup, but a year in Chip Ganassi’s Dodges wasn’t even close to enough time. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Albert Einstein Award (smartest move): Richard Childress hiring Harvick. Many wondered why Childress decided to dip into the Busch Series to fill Earnhardt’s seat. After all, Harvick barely had a year’s experience in Busch. Childress looks like a genius now, doesn’t he?

Stand Up And Cheer Award (best race): Tie, Old Dominion 500, Cracker Barrel 500. Ricky Craven found himself in the lead late in the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway, but Dale Jarrett was closing fast. The two raced side-by-side for several laps, both racing hard for the victory. No rough stuff, but there was some paint swapped. In the end, Craven wanted it a tad more than Jarrett and got his first Winston Cup victory.

The Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway ended with Harvick edging Gordon by a few inches. That was Harvick’s third race since replacing Earnhardt, and there were few dry eyes in the house after Harvick’s stirring win.

We Want a Refund Award (worst race): Tie, UAW-GM Quality 500, Pop Secret 400. Sterling Marlin won by more than six seconds in a snoozer at Charlotte, and Nemechek’s 6.2-second victory at Rockingham was equally as boring. Those races accounted for a third of the TOTAL margin of victory in all races. Wake us up when it’s over.

Drive-Thru Award (most aggressive driver): Robby Gordon. If Gordon had backed off at Sears Point, he would have won that race. But, no, he had to race his butt off – to keep Harvick a lap down. Aggression does pay, however, as Gordon roughed up Jeff Gordon at New Hampshire to get his initial Winston Cup victory.

Valium Award (second-most aggressive driver): Harvick. Let’s see, he ran over Ricky Rudd at Richmond, Bobby Hamilton at Martinsville and Jeff Green at Bristol in a Busch race. Let’s give Harvick his due. He did calm down some by season’s end. Mr. Maturity, that guy.

5 O’Clock Award: (time to quit): Terry Labonte. He went 36 races, almost 11,000 laps without getting to the top spot. No, he didn’t lead a single lap all year. Buckshot Jones and Ron Hornaday can lead a race, but Labonte can’t? We’re not saying he’s washed up, but he is headed for the cleaners.

Free Buffet Award: (most media friendly): Jeff Gordon, Rudd, Jeff Burton. They’re famous, rich, talented and successful. But they’re also three of the easiest guys to talk to in the garage area. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they all finished in the Top 10 in points, either. Who said nice guys finish last?

Broken Tape Recorder Award (least media friendly): Stewart. I’ve heard people say he’s charming and engaging. Perhaps, but he needs to learn some manners. Do we want him to speak his mind? Yes. But he needs to take some lessons from Kenny Wallace, the Clown Prince of NASCAR. Kenny can talk about controversial things without stepping on toes. Stewart can’t talk about controversial things without kicking people in the shins.

RIP: Dale Earnhardt, Blaise Alexander. Godspeed.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

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