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The Callahan Report: Racing With Power, Rockingham is NASCAR

19 February 1999

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel

Mark Martin
ROCKINGHAM, NC: It's time to get back to racing with power. With the Daytona 500 entered into the history books, the drivers and teams on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit can get down to the business of racing. They can race without the handicap presented by restrictor plates. NASCAR uses restrictor plates to reduce speeds at the big tracks like Daytona and Talladega. While restrictor plate racing produces close, wheel to wheel thrills, it is frustrating for the drivers when they try to avoid the inevitable "big wreck". Several top stars on the circuit caught the frustration first-hand at Daytona. The story will be different this weekend at Rockingham.

Mark Martin had the most successful year of his career in 1998. He did not do well at restrictor plate races, but was a front runner at nearly every other racing venue. This year, he is poised to pick up where he left off in 98. Martin was one of the unfortunate ones last weekend in Daytona. He won the Bud Shootout when Speedweeks '99 kicked off two weeks ago, but he was caught in the mid-race "monster crash" during NASCAR's showcase event. Martin and the Roush team have done their homework over the Winter. The team has put together a strong restrictor plate program to go along with their already powerful racing package. Martin started the Rockingham race in sixth place last year. He finished third. All things considered, Martin is a favorite to win the North Carolina 400 Sunday.

Another driver who is strong at "The Rock" is Rusty Wallace. He appeared to have Daytona locked up after dominating much of the race. A bad call by the team (electing to not take on fresh tires late in the race) cost Wallace his first Daytona victory. Wallace is a pro. He will shake off the frustrations of Daytona and emerge as a front runner in Rockingham. Wallace has always been good at this North Carolina facility. In 1998, Wallace started this race from the seventh spot. He chased Jeff Gordon to the checkered flag for a second place finish. Wallace could easily take the victory in Rockingham this weekend. He won the race in 1993 and 1994.

The star of the nineties, Jeff Gordon, will continue to be a threat. Gordon won the 1998 Rockingham race. He is also coming off his second Daytona 500 victory. His Daytona win came in a car that was not as good as most. Gordon can always pull off the upset. With the team approach and talent behind the wheel of the Dupont Monte Carlo, Jeff Gordon will be a top five contender at Rockingham...and every other track this season. Gordon came from the fourth starting spot to win at Rockingham last year.

Dale Jarrett got bit again at Daytona last weekend. It seems that Daytona is an "all or nothing" track for Jarrett, a two-time Daytona winner. He had a strong car, but got caught in the middle of the track heading into turn three last Sunday. The error set up the traditional "big one" for the 1999 Daytona 500. In the middle of the turn, Jarrett lost the air off his rear when his teammate, Kenny Irwin went under him. Jarrett lost control and began spinning, crashing and rolling through the turn. It was a rare mistake by one of NASCAR's greatest talents. Count on it....Jarrett will be ready to threaten all comers at Rockingham. Jarrett started far back in the field last year. He shot from 32nd to seventh. Jarrett could be the winner at Rockingham, no matter where he starts..

Jimmy Spencer is long overdue for a win on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. Spencer is good at Rockingham. He started this race from 28th last year and wound up fourth. Rockingham is tough on drivers and machinery, but it still seems to suit Spencer's aggressive driving style. Look for Jimmy Spencer to make a run to the front at Rockingham again in 1999.

We have to have a dark horse pick. The nod goes to Bobby Hamilton this week. Hamilton has proven he is a winner on the short tracks around the circuit. He has also shown talent on the medium range tracks like Rockingham. Hamilton is a talented veteran who knows how to get around the tough tracks. Rockingham can be a place where Hamilton emerges as the surprise champion. He had a good run last year, coming from 33rd to a top-ten finish.

The race airs at 12:30 p.m. EST Sunday on TNN. Turn up the volume and let the house rock. The 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup season is underway.

Editors Note: The images displayed in this article are available for larger viewing in The Racing Image Galleries and The Visions of Speed Art Gallery.