The Callahan Report: Martin Vs. Gordon - The Chase Continues At Rockingham
22 October 1997
Winston Cup Points Leader, Jeff Gordon
ROCKINGHAM, NC: Mark Martin is still chasing Jeff Gordon for the Winston Cup Championship. Martin has been decreasing Gordon's point lead every race recently, but time is running out. He looks to close the gap further this weekend on the 1.017 mile banked track known as "The Rock." With three races left on the 1997 Winston Cup schedule, Martin is looking for some Luck. Martin's talent shows through at Rockingham. He is the qualifying record holder (157.885 mph) from earlier this year. Martin has won the fall event in Rockingham (1989). The fall race at Rockingham is one of the few races which Gordon has not yet added to his resume. Both are considered favorites here this weekend.
Another driver to watch this weekend will be Ricky Rudd in the "Tide Ride." Rudd is noted for winning at least one race in each of the last fifteen seasons. He is looking to make it three win for 1997. Rudd is the defending champion of this race and has already scored victories at Dover and Indianapolis this year.
The consistent and six time 1997 winner Dale Jarrett finished second here last year. He may be able to move that position up a notch as he and his "over the belt" crew have really come of age this season. The driver of the Ford Quality Care Thunderbird is third in the points and a threat at any track.
Terry Labonte finally got his first win of the 1997 Winston Cup season at the last outing (Talladega). Labonte finished a strong third in this race a year ago. The leverage and confidence boost he got from his Talladega win may carry over to this weekend. Keep your eyes out for the revived Labonte.
Jeff Burton was also a top five finisher here last year and figures to be even stronger this year. Burton has pulled into victory lane on three occasions so far this season. He keeps getting tougher. With another year of experience behind him and a Jack Roush motor under him, Burton will be a top contender here in Rockingham.
Dale Earnhardt won this race in 1994. His winless streak continues heading into Rockingham. Earnhardt was in a good position to end that much talked about streak at Talladega when he and other front runners were taken out in a twenty-three car crash. "The Rock" could be the track where one "Rock Solid" champion ends all the talk and gets on with the business of winning races.
The most winning active driver at Rockingham is Darrell Waltrip. He won this event three times (1981, 1982, and 1985). After his disappointment from three weeks ago (missing the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway), wouldn't it be nice to see a racing master regain his winning form.
This weekend should bring back some good memories. The past champions list is full of drivers that are no longer with us. This race holds rich tradition and memories of better days. Neil Bonnet was the Rockingham champion in 1986. Alan Kulwicki won here in 1990. Davey Allison was in victory lane in 1991. Those past champions will be smiling from above this weekend.