NASCAR Winston Cup Heads WestBy David Treffer
Contributing Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
April 26, 2001
The NASCAR Winston Cup Series travels west this weekend to Fontana, California for race #10 of 36. Series points leader Dale Jarrett brings a 145-point lead over Jeff Gordon. If past history is any indicator of the race, Gordon will probably leave California a little closer in the point standings.
The Fontana track (2 mile D shaped oval) has been a friend to Jeff Gordon. Of the four races held at Fontana, Gordon has won twice. However for Gordon to begin closing the distance between himself and Jarrett he will need to find a way to slow down the UPS sponsored Yates Ford Juggernaut.
Jarrett's early season has been nothing short of spectacular-three victories in nine races. If Jarrett keeps up this pace, the championship could be decided by mid-point of the season. While that is a slight exaggeration, Jarrett has been, to say the least, the dominant driver of the first third of the season.
Following Jarrett and Gordon in the standings is Johnny Benson. Still waiting for that first victory, Benson certainly has all of the pieces to the puzzle. The problem for Benson and his Valvoline sponsored team is to find a way to put all of the pieces together at the same time. Benson arrives in California 150 points out of the lead.
Bobby Hamilton sits in fourth place in the current standings. Coming off of a brilliant drive at Talladega, Hamilton has to be considered a threat this weekend. His super speedway program is obviously on track. The fourth place showing that the team had at Martinsville also indicates that the Andy Petree led Square D Chevrolet is a threat at the short tracks. Hamilton has scored five top ten finishes this year. The one glaring statistic that Hamilton will need to work on is to consistently earn those valuable bonus points. Hamilton has scored 15 bonus points this season.
Sterling Marlin holds down fifth place in the Winston Cup standings. Marlin, who has had to deal with the aftermath of the Earnhardt tragedy, has been another role model for being able to turn in consistent finishes. Marlins' strategy to stay in the hunt for the championship is complete with five top ten finishes. The reason that Marlin is not closer to Jarrett is the two dismal (34th and 35th) finishes that the team has endured. Regardless, the team has scored fifty bonus points. Marlins' 23rd place finish at Talladega this past weekend was disappointing to the team after having led the most laps. Look for him to bounce back this weekend.
The California track is known for wide-open racing. The width of the track is similar to Pocono. The backstretch at Fontana can allow for four and five wide racing. The all- important drafting partner is a premium at Fontana. No doubt the 2001 version will be a repeat of the previous four races.