Homestead Recap

The Key Moment – Bill Elliott dominated the race and looked to have things in hand as the white flag flew. But he cut down a tire on the final lap and slid back to eighth handing the win to Bobby Labonte.

In a Nutshell – The thrill of victory and the heartache of defeat.

Dramatic Moment – The restart after the sixth caution period finished a four-way battle for second place that was incredibly intense.

That final lap is a pretty good indicator as to why real fans don’t leave early.

The newly reconfigured Homestead track passed with flying colors. There was great racing all day.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Can you believe the class Elliott displayed in his post-race interview after losing on the last lap? Whatever. Was Elliott serious he’ll be back full time next year?

Think Ford was happy with just two Fords in the top 20 in the Ford 400 during Ford championship weekend? Only one Ford finished in the top 10 in the season ending points. Guess that “Fear This” commercial is going to need a rewrite over the off-season.

What was with all those tire failures? It wasn’t like it was all that hot out.

Should NASCAR do something to prevent teams in the top three touring series from stacking the deck with extra entries in the season finale’s with championships on the line? Will the IWX strategy of the last two races cause NASCAR to make a rule outlawing team racing like the F1 folks did?

Why were the pits open with the 6 car stranded in the middle of pit lane?

Did Ryan Newman inadvertently block Kevin Harvick with 33 laps to go while Harvick was racing for second or was that payback for Harvick wrecking him out on lap 5?

Why was Rusty Wallace black-flagged for passing the leader during a restart, but Greg Biffle did the same thing and he wasn’t penalized?

How’s that for ironic. The last Winston Cup race broadcast ever was sponsored by Nicoderm.

What in blazes was Kevin Harvick thinking going three wide on lap 3? Half-wit.

Why was there no caution when Mike Skinner hit the wall and spread debris all over the back straight?

Should the Army really have been running ads featuring helicopters with a tag-line “Fasten you seatbelts” the day after that terrible tragedy in Iraq? The promos for this week’s ER were another unfortunate happenstance.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Could fate be any crueler than to cause Bill Elliott to suffer a flat tire on the last lap of a race he dominated trying to win for a second consecutive week? That’s about as bad as it gets. To add insult to injury the car was burning on pit road as the lanky Georgian tried to scramble out without a fire engine in sight.

Ricky Rudd blew an engine so catastrophically that the smoke probably eliminated all the mosquitoes in South Florida.

Ryan Newman was the hottest driver during the second half of the season but managed to get in only five laps before getting wrecked out on Sunday. That’s what happens when you qualify way back in fourth.

Mark Martin and Ward Burton both could have used a good run to end dismal 2003 seasons. Martin got loose and collected Burton while they were battling for tenth.

Rusty Wallace was running up front most of the day, but blistered a tire late in the race and was forced to the pits. Not long after he was black-flagged for passing the leader coming to the restart. Wallace’s 2003 season ends with his winless streak at 98 races.

Kurt Busch got caught up in Harvick’s bad decision and wrecked hard. The bad finish cost him a top 10 result in the season ending points standings and a trip to New York.

Petty Engineering had one car fail to qualify for the race and the other lost an engine early in the event.

Michael Waltrip blew a tire rather than an engine this week while running fifth. Let the record show that after winning at Talladega this fall, Waltrip posted just one top 10 finish, and five finishes outside the top 25 in the final seven races of the season. Do the math.

Brian Vickers has proven to be a remarkable qualifier in his first four Cup starts, but he hasn’t finished too well. A flat tire sent Vickers hard into the wall Sunday. I had to laugh on Saturday when Vickers said he’d been dreaming of winning the Busch championship for his whole life. All twenty years of it.

The worst luck of the weekend goes to the Fitz-Bradshaw Busch team. They entered three cars in the Homestead Busch race. Their transporter caught on fire on the way to the track eliminating one entry, and the other two cars were collected up in a first lap wreck. Hard to get happy about that.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Bobby Labonte benefited from Bill Elliott’s misfortune to win his second race of the 2003 season.

Kevin Harvick survived that lap 5 wreck he caused while the other two participants were sent to the garage area for extensive repairs. He went on to finish second. He was even luckier if he made it to his helicopter before Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch caught up to him after the race.

Jeremy Mayfield had to take to the grass to avoid the lap 5 accident, but went on to run as high as second later in the race and finished sixth.

Matt Kenseth was lucky he arrived at Homestead with the title wrapped up. He blew an engine and finished dead last. Had he needed a decent run to be champion, that could have been costly.

Jimmie Johnson cut down a tire and lost a lap early in the event. He managed to drive his way back onto the lead lap without the benefit of the “first driver a lap down” rule, survived running into the back of Ron Hornaday’s car and went on to finish third.

Tony Stewart has his nose pierced with a coil spring. (The nose of his car that is.) And I think we all know how much that hurts. The radiator wasn’t damaged and Stewart went on to finish seventh.

Worth Noting

Chevys took the top three finishing spots and five of the top 10 finishing spots. Dodge claimed four of the top 10 finishing positions, and Johnny Benson sent Pontiac out in style with a fourth place finish. The pace truck might have been the only Ford to lead the field all day.

Though they both had rough days, Matt Kenseth ends the year with the most top 10 finishes (25) and Ryan Newman is second in that regard with 22. Newman leads all drivers in 2003 with seventeen top 5 finishes followed by Jeff Gordon (15) and Jimmie Johnson (14). Newman also had the most wins with eight followed by Kurt Busch with four victories.

Sterling Marlin claimed another top 10 finish on Sunday but ends 2003 without a win or even top 5 result. Rusty Wallace had just two top 5 finishes all season.

Jimmie Johnson finished second or third in the final six races of the season.

Johnny Benson’s fourth place result was his best finish of the 2003 season and his second top 5 result this year.

Jeff Gordon finished fifth in five of the last eight races this year. He also won two of those races.

Tony Stewart has top 10 finishes in eight of the last nine races of this season.

Bill Elliott had top 10 finishes in six of the final seven races this year.

Todd Bodine’s eleventh place finish equaled his best of the 2003 season. Bodine has finished eleventh four times this season.

Tony Raines ended 2003 on a bright note with a sixth place result at the Rock and a thirteenth place finish at Homestead. The un-sponsored team missed just one race this year.

Larry Foyt’s sixteenth place finish was his best of his career. Note to AJ, I think the problem is the car not the driver. Foyt drove an Evernham prepared Dodge on Sunday.

Mark Martin had just one top 10 finish in the last fourteen races of the season.

Jamie McMurray won his first career pole on Friday to continue a streak of five straight years where a rookie has won at least one pole. McMurray was also awarded the 2003 Rookie of the Year award Sunday. And to add the icing to the cake, McMurray was once again the best finishing rookie in Sunday’s race and came home with a top 10 finish.

What’s the Points?

Kenseth is the 2003 Winston Cup champion by 90 points over Jimmie Johnson.

Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick took advantage of Ryan Newman’s problems (caused by Havoc Harvick) to each advance a spot to fourth and fifth. Newman will finish sixth in the final standings.

Terry Labonte took advantage of Kurt Busch’s fifth lap misfortunes to wrest away the tenth finishing spot in the points, beating eleventh place Busch by twelve markers. Note to Mrs. Labonte: You might want to have Terry try on the tux to be sure it still fits before sending it to the dry cleaners.

Michael Waltrip completed the Flight of Icarus dropping two more spots to finish fifteenth in the final standings. (Waltrip was fifth in the standings as recently as after the second Michigan race.) Inside the top 25, Greg Biffle also fell two spots to wind up twentieth in the final standings.

Jamie McMurray finished the season on a bright note advancing two spots to wind up thirteenth.

Rusty Wallace finished outside the top 10 in points for the first time since 1992. Dale Jarrett finished outside the top 10 for the first time since joining the 88 team.

Drivers finishing inside the top 10 this year he did not do so last year include Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3rd), Kevin Harvick (5th) Bobby Labonte (8th), Bill Elliott (9th) and Terry Labonte (10th)

Drivers who finished in the top 10 in 2002 but not in 2003 include Mark Martin (2nd in 2002) Kurt Busch (3rd), Rusty Wallace (7th) Dale Jarrett (9th) and Ricky Rudd (10th.)

Ford fell to third in manufacturer points finishing behind Dodge and Chevy.

Of the top 5 finishers in the 2003 points only Jeff Gordon ever competed in the same race as Richard Petty. And Gordon only ran against Petty once in the 1992 season finale.

Jeff Burton in twelfth was the highest finisher in the points who did not win a race this year. Dale Jarrett and Ricky Craven wound up 26th and 27th in the points despite each having won a race this year.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) With all due apologies to dejected Bill Elliott fans, I’ll give that one a six. Tight racing all day and a completely unexpected end to the race.

Next Up – A long Winter’s Nap. The next Cup points race is the 2004 Daytona 500 on February 15th. Thanks to my readers for a great ride this season, and Happy Holidays to you all.

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2003

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