Darlington Race Recap
March 16, 2003 | 12:37 A.M. EST
In a Nutshell – The Race of the Century
Dramatic Moment – From the resumption of racing after the seventh caution flag right to the end if you blinked you missed great racing, but that last lap will be discussed for decades to come.
Kurt Busch decided to take it three wide to get around both Elliott Sadler and Jeff Gordon while the 24 and the 38 were scrapping for the lead.
What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week
How incredibly stupid would someone have to be to take a date from this track? Can we take both New Hampshire dates away and run four races at Darlington next year?
You’d have thought Jeff Gordon had been doing this long enough not to run the tires off his car on a restart with that many laps to go, wouldn’t ya?
What exactly got into Dale Jarrett when he was laps down and banging the heck out of the race leader? Was he listening to Mike Joy who somehow had some notion Jarrett was on the lead lap for the entire last quarter of the race?
Is there a feud brewing between Sterling Marlin and Jimmie Johnson?
What’s going on with those Roush engines?
You want to ditch work for the rest of the day and come by my place to watch that race all over again?
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
Jerry Nadeau was unable to capitalize on a fine qualifying effort. He spun early in the race, clawed his way back to third, then had an oil fitting come loose at which point NASCAR black flagged him.
All four of Jeff Burton’s teammates ended up with top 12 finishes, while Burton popped an engine and ended up 42nd. The Roush Report for the weekend, two engines lost during the truck race, one lost in Saturday Cup practice and another during the race itself.
Mark Martin would have been right with the front pack for the final restart but his team left a lug nut loose.
Jimmy Spencer has a career day going before banging into the wall and knocking the toe in out of range.
John Andretti get tagged by Jimmy Spencer while also enjoying a decent run.
Jeff Gordon gone and licked all the red off his candy (or the new off his Goodyears if you prefer) lost the lead to Kurt Busch, hit the wall and dropped from 1st to 33rd in the final rundown.
Last weekend’s race winner Bobby Labonte got a piece of the Marlin/Johnson wreck and wound up 37th.
Richard Childress had his problem children end up in 19th, 28th and 36th.
The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune
Matt Kenseth wrecked early in the race, but still managed to claw his way back to an eighth place finish.
Tony Stewart survived hard contact with the wall to still come away with a top 10 finish.
While 14th was a substandard finish for Ryan Newman, he was lucky to finish the race at all after tangling with Ward Burton.
While he faded from second to seventh late, Elliott Sadler now finds himself in the top 10 in points.
Kurt Busch lost a ton of positions when he missed the entrance to pit road but clawed his way back to 2nd place.
Michael Waltrip had a fine run and wound up passing his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. for fourth in the final laps.
Kurt Busch has finished second in three of the first five races run this season.
Craven’s win was the first for Pontiac this season.
Rusty Wallace has now failed to finish on the lead lap in the last three races.
Bill Elliott scored his first top 10 finish of the season.
His third place finish was the best of Dave Blaney’s career and his first ever top 5 Winston Cup finish.
Elliott Sadler now has three top 10 finishes in the five races he’s run for Robert Yates. Ricky Rudd has yet to score a top 10 finish for the Wood Brothers.
Sunday’s top finishing rookie was Greg Biffle in 12th.
The top ten at Darlington consisted of five Fords, three Chevys, and a single Dodge and Pontiac. Dodge still hasn’t visited Victory Lane this season.
Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart are the only two drivers with four top 10 finishes in the season’s first five races. Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Michael Waltrip are the only three drivers with three top 5 finishes in the first five races.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has three consecutive top 10 finishes after starting the 2003 season off on a sour note.
Wunderkid Jimmie Johnson has now missed the top 10 in the last three races. (That happened to him only once all of his rookie season when in the stretch that ran from the second race at Atlanta through Phoenix.)
What’s the Points?
Matt Kenseth holds onto the points lead and extends his margin to 57 markers over Tony Stewart who remains in second place. Michael Waltrip holds onto third place, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumps six positions to fourth in the standings
Race winner Ricky Craven and runner up Kurt Busch are now tied in the points with Craven credited with fifth spot because the first tiebreaker is number of wins.
Entering the top 10 in points this week are Ricky Craven (up eleven spots to fifth), Kurt Busch (up eight spots to sixth) Dave Blaney (up seven spots to eighth) and Elliott Sadler (up nine spots to tenth.) Falling out of the top 10 are Johnny Benson (down five spots to eleventh) Bobbby Labonte (down nine spots to 14th) Jeff Gordon (down seven spots to 15th) and today’s Downbound Train award winner Jeff Burton down thirteen spots to 22nd. (Ouch!)
Other big gainers this week are Mark Martin (up nine spots to sixteenth) Greg Biffle (up six spots to 27th despite having failed to qualify for Vegas) and Bill Elliott (up seven spots to 29th.
Folks headed in the wrong direction include Kevin Harvick (down eleven spots to 18th) Robby Gordon (down four spots to 21st ), Casey Mears (down three spots to thirtieth), and Ward Burton (also down three spots to 31st.)
Hideo Fukuyama did not race this weekend but lost only one spot falling to 46th.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) Today’s race was like finding the keys to the brewery at the start of a long holiday weekend.
Next Up- Get those seatbelts installed on the couch. It’s off to Bristol, Winston Cup racing for those with attention deficit syndrome.