Itís nearly that
time again. Time to get the fire suits and helmets out, time
for teams to go to Sears to stock up on those Craftsman
tools, time to figure out if Goodyear is going to actually
make a tire for all tracks. Yes, itís that time again, itís
time for NASCAR!
But how do you
top the excitement of the 2002 Winston Cup Season that had
the closest points finish in quite awhile? Well this year,
there is one thing that is for sure and that is nothing is
for sure. If we look at the last 4 years, you will find that
the previous Winston Cup Champion, which this year the
representative is Tony Stewart, has not faired well in the
coming year. But I think thatís about to change. Tony has
already declined his invite to the International Race of
Champions series and trying to pull double duty, which some
really thought he would go back and try this year, to
concentrate on trying to become one of the elite who have
won this series back to back. He wants to keep 100 percent
concentration on a possible second title. Stewart will also
be driving a new manufacturer in a Chevy Monte Carlo. Joe
Gibbs Racing announced their decision to change over to
Chevrolet back in August but this has been one of the most
anticipated changes to come in 2003.
Does he have a
chance? Lotís of early reports predict that not only will
Stewart go back to back but could dominate this sport for up
to the next five years. But when you are the hunted, the
hunters come at you from everywhere.
Let us take
closer look at who will be gunning to take the HOME out of
THE HOME DEPOT. First off, you have to look no further than
last yearís runner up, Mark Martin. Driving the #6 Viagra
Ford for Roush racing, Mark has developed a reputation of
the small man who carries a big stick. He will be more
determined than ever to pick up that ever elusive trophy,
since out of all the veteran drivers that have repeatedly
been secured in the top ten in points in their career,
Martin is the lone ranger with no titles under his belt.
Combined with the resurgence of Roush racing in 2002, Martin
is a top contender for the coveted title.
has to be the hard luck kid, Sterling Marlin, in the #40
Coors Light Dodge. Marlin dominated the point standings for
most of the season until September and subsequently had to
bow out due to a severe neck injury. He feels more
determined than ever to regain his dominance in the series.
Marlin is also a veteran who is looking for his first cup
One person you
can always count on to give you a run for the money is
4-Time Winston Cup Champion, Jeff Gordon, in the #24 Dupont
Chevrolet. In 2002, Gordon weathered through some tough
storms and also concentrated on the business end of the
sport with his rookie driver Jimmie Johnson, to finish 4th
in the standings. Robbie Loomis and company along with
Gordon will be more focused than ever to add another cup to
Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman, two of the hottest rookies
ever to join this sport, will they be able to avoid the
sophomore jinx that Kevin Harvick was not? Only time will
Last, but not
least in drivers to look out for the cup in 2002, has to be
that ever impressive driver of the #97 Rubbermaid/Sharpie
Ford, Kurt Busch. Busch, who won 3 races in the 2002 season
including, the last 2 races of the year, has improved
greatly and is a viable contender for the 2003 championship
I believe that
drivers like Matt Kenseth in the #17 DeWalt Tools Ford and
Dale Earnhardt Jr. should also have stellar seasons.
Kensethís six wins last year was the most in the series and
Earnhardt Jr. along with his team mate, Michael Waltrip,
dominated the superspeedway. If these teams can stay out of
DNF trouble and be consistently in the top 20 they too will
be up there in the top of the charts as well.
2003 will be a
comeback year for the 2001 Champion, Bobby LaBonte, driver
of the #18 Interstate Batteries Monte Carlo. LaBonteís crew
chief of the last 4 years, Jimmy Makar, decided to take a
new position as team Manager leaving the door open for
Michael ĎFatbackí McSwain to step in and have a little
change of scenery. McSwain had his ups and downs in 2002.
Matter of fact he probably would want to forget this last
season after the stormy relationship with Ricky Rudd and
Robert Yates ended. McSwain hopes with LaBonte and Joe Gibbs
racing, to bring a team back to its winning ways of
Over the off
season, there were many changes in lineups. You will see
some new faces in old cars and some old faces in new cars.
Among the biggest stories of the 03 Silly Season, was the
driver switch of Elliott Sadler and Ricky Rudd. While Rudd
faked us all out by pondering retirement, Sadler picked up
the ride of a life time by teaming up with Robert Yates
Racing and the first time with a team mate in Dale Jarrett.
With that ride secured, it was then announced the very next
week that Ricky Rudd would not retire but secure the ride
that Sadler vacated with the Wood Brothers.
notable changes are Joe Nemechek joining Hendrick Racing in
the #25 UAW/Delphi Chevrolet, Jimmy Spencer to the #7 Sirius
Satellite Radio Dodge, Ken Schrader to the #49 BAM Racing
Dodge, and Jerry Naedau to the #01 US Army Pontiac.
We canít forget
about the Rookie class of 2003. Some rookies have already
gotten their feet wet as Jamie Mc Murray, driving the #42
Havoline Dodge. He filled in for the injured Sterling Marlin
last year in the #40 Coors Light Dodge and ended up winning
the fall Charlotte race in only his second start. Look for
him to do some serious damage in 03. Along with McMurray is
his new team mate Casey Mears, driving the #41 Target Dodge.
Mears got the call of a lifetime when Chip Ganassi tabbed
him to replace Jimmy Spencer. On top of that, coming into
the mix is 2002 Busch Series Champion Greg Biffle in the #16
Grainger Ford, Jack Sprague in the #60 NetZero Chevrolet,
and Larry Foyt in the #14 Harrahís Pontiac.
So there you
have it, with all that talent, along with and ever growing
fan base, NASCARís Winston Cup Series looks to be better
than ever. If you can make it to a track near you, I highly
recommend it, and just remember to:
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