Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

Mid-year review of 2000 Winston Cup season
By Mark Baudermann
June 23, 200
With the approach of the half-way point of the season, one can look back at the season, thus far, and determine that it has been an interesting one. What is in store for the remaining half of the season?

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With the approach of the half-way point of the season, one can look back thus far, and determine that it has been an interesting season. We have seen twelve different race winners, only three of those winners winning more than one race, and the top 10 positions in the race points separated by only 366 points. We have seen two rookies, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Matt Kenseth, take center stage at Charlotte, while Dale Earnhardt, who many considered past his prime, make a serious run towards the championship. We have seen younger drivers, such as Tony Stewart and Jeremy Mayfield, continue there march towards legendary greatness, while Ward Burton, who has come close so many times to returning to Victory Lane, finally get his second career victory, and also challenge for the Winston Cup Championship. All this, and the continued consistency of Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett, have made this an exciting and interesting Winston Cup Season.

So, what is in store for the rest of the season? We have two road course races left in the schedule. We also have two trips to Loudon, a trip to the Brickyard, two restrictor-plate races, and the second Cup race at Homestead, left in the schedule. Which drivers will continue their strong finishes and consistency? Which drivers will have bad luck awaiting them? Which drivers will pull several victories out of there hat, and how many more race winners will we see? Let's take a look at the current top-10 points leaders:

Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon are two road course masters

Jeff Gordon has won the last five road course races. Although he has been fairly consistent, he definitely has not been the Jeff Gordon of old. A new crew chief and pit crew have made this a rebuilding year for the three-time champion. If Jeff is going to make some serious strides towards making it a four-time champion, the road courses are a good place to start. However, he is going to have to hold off challenges from two road course masters: Mark Martin and Ricky Rudd. Mark scored his first top five finish, this past weekend at Pocono, since his victory at Martinsville. It has been a so-so year for Mark, but he did win at Sears Point in 1997, and has three career victories at Watkins Glen. Mark needs to regain his consistency to make a push towards the top five point leaders. A road course victory, and continued success in the fall Dover race, will help. Ricky Rudd is a victory waiting to happen. Rudd has four top-5 finishes in the last six races and has always run well at the road courses, and with Loudon and the Brickyard coming up, Ricky should make his way to victory lane, soon.

What started out as a sophomore jinx year for Tony Stewart, has turned into a repeat of his stunning performance, last year. His two victories in a row, at Dover and Michigan, have made him a serious contender for the championship. He needs to maintain his consistency, though, and his cool. Tony should make his way to the winner's circle, several more times this year. He had some strong runs at Loudon last year, so he will be a factor there, as well as Jeff Burton. Burton has won the last three July events at Loudon, and is due for some strong finishes. He has been knocking down top-10 finishes, but Jeff is in need of some top-5 finishes. Jeff had a strong run at Sears Point, last year, until his transmission went. A first career road course victory could be in store for the younger Burton.

Jeff Burton talks to older brother Ward at Dover

If we where to judge the 2000 Winston Cup season, based on pole winners, Rusty Wallace would be the man. His five pole-positions, thus far, have been astounding. He is ,clearly, the man to beat at Bristol. With the Bristol night race coming up, as well as Martinsville and Richmond, Rusty has many good chances for career victory 51. Rusty is also a formidable road course driver. Bad luck seems to follow Rusty, though, so he needs to avoid it. Hopefully, Kenny Irwin did not start a string of bad luck scenarios for Ward Burton. Ward has been one of the pleasant surprises of the season. Although, he has not run as strong as he did earlier in the season, Ward has still been managing top-10 finishes. A few more victories will keep Ward in sight of the Winston Cup, and with visits to Darlington and Rockingham, remaining, Ward could be the dark horse in the chase for the crown.

After Dale Jarrett won the Daytona 500, many fans feared that the defending champion could run away with this year's championship, similar to what he did, last year. However, bad luck finally caught up to Dale, and he was nowhere to be found in the top-5 points leaders. Yet, the 88 team is beginning to show their championship form with five top-5 finishes in a row. If this continues, we are going to have a repeat champion. Daytona, Indianapolis, and Charlotte remain on the schedule; three tracks that Jarrett exceeds at. Don't look for Dale Jarrett to back out of title contention anytime soon.

Many Winston Cup fans, including myself, were labeling Dale Earnhardt as a has-been, and "over the hill." This season, he is proving everybody wrong. Dale is on a mission, this year. A mission to capture his eighth Winston Cup Championship. He leads all drivers with 12 top-10 finishes, and is within striking distance of leading the series in points. One has to wonder if this impressive roll will continue. One also has to wonder if Jeremy Mayfield's "love tap" at Pocono will ignite an even bigger fire.

Bobby Labonte battles with Bill Elliott at daytona

Bobby Labonte is simply the man to beat, right now. He is the most consistent guy the track, and with several of his favorite tracks still remaining on the schedule, look for Bobby to visit Victory Lane a few more times. The only thing that can stop Bobby Labonte is bad luck. He received some at Pocono, but still was able to scrap for a top-15 finish. Look for Bobby to be racing for his first Winston Cup Championship at Atlanta.

There, I said it; Bobby Labonte will be racing for the cup, in November, at Atlanta. However, he will not be alone. Look for Dale Jarrett to also challenge for the cup, at Atlanta. Dale Earnhardt and the Burtons will be in contention for much of the season, and could be looking for the cup at Atlanta, also. As for remaining race winners, Terry Labonte has been poking his head, in and out of the top-10 in points. He needs a victory to solidify a trip to the Waldorf Astoria, in November. The same holds true for Mike Skinner. Skinner also needs a victory to solidify a ride in the Lowe's Chevrolet, next year. As for the rookie sensations, Dale, Jr. and Matt Kenseth, look for both of them to make serious strides towards the top-10. Both drivers are beginning to maintain consistency, and they both ran well at Pocono. The Rookie of the Year race will be a dogfight, until November. Finally, Jeremy Mayfield could be another dark horse in the point standings, come November. With his illegal gasoline at Talladega, roof problems at California, and his "intimidating approach" at Pocono, Jeremy is the most controversial guy on the track, right now. Yet, that is not stopping the Mobil 1 team from trying to finish the season in the top-10 in points. The Pocono win is a signal that that team is focused, and a few more wins will give Mayfield a respectable finish, in the end.

Photos courtesy of MSI

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