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The Callahan Report: Time to destroy metal; NASCAR returns to Bristol

23 March 2000

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
BRISTOL, TN: Call you broker. Invest in sheet metal companies based in the North Carolina area. NASCAR Winston Cup racing returns to the most exciting short-track in the world this weekend. Bristol Motor Speedway always produces some of the most thrilling racing on the circuit. It also provides job security. Next week will be a busy week for the fabricators and sheet metal workers.

Ford could return to the top of the racing charts this weekend at the .533 mile high-banked speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. This "shrine" of short-track racing favored the Ford body style a year ago. The recent rules changes by NASCAR may not be enough to overcome the "racing notebooks" hidden away by the Ford team managers.

Rusty Wallace

Rusty Wallace is a multi-winner at Bristol. He won the springtime race here in 1999, 1993, and 1989. Although Wallace has struggled so far this season, Bristol may be just what he and the Penske South team needs to revitalize their morale. The St. Louis Missouri native was dominant here last year. He led all but 78 laps out of 500. Wallace is the overwhelming favorite at Bristol this weekend.

Mark Martin is still waiting to find victory lane in the springtime at Bristol. He was Wallace's closest competition here a year ago. Martin has said goodbye to his worst enemy over the winter. His successful back surgery should make Martin a contender this weekend. This year, there will be no back pain inflicted by the grueling half-mile circle of torture. However, aching muscles and blistered hands are commonplace and expected. If Rusty Wallace fails to match his performance from a year ago, Mark Martin will be ready to show the way to the checkered flag.

If Pontiacs are going to challenge the Fords at Bristol, the most likely candidates will be Tony Stewart and Ward Burton. Stewart was able to lead at Bristol last year. He is not afraid to mix it up on tight racing quarters. The fearless 1999 rookie of the year has been a consistent runner in 2000. His goal continues to be "finishing better than he did last year at each race track." Stewart finished outside the top-ten here last year. With his talent and team management, Stewart should easily meet or exceed his goals at Bristol. A fourth career victory for Stewart would not be a surprise to racing veterans.

Ward Burton, who won at Darlington last weekend, piloted one of three Pontiacs to a top-ten finish at Bristol last year. Burton's team is supercharged with adrenaline after that victory. Considering the team's approach...race the track instead of the competition...Ward Burton could be the biggest threat as the NASCAR haulers head into normally peaceful hills of Tennessee.

The top finishing Chevrolet in the 1999 event was Jeff Gordon. The three-time Winston Cup Champion could do no better than a sixth place finish...a poor performance considering Gordon had won the Food City 500 the previous four years in-a-row. Gordon is struggling in the 2000 racing season. The once-dominant racer finished on the lead lap for the first time this season at Darlington last weekend. Gordon is still "working out the communication bugs" between himself and his new crew.

Jeff Gordon

Considering Gordon is still learning the composition of his new race team, Dale Earnhardt should be flying the Chevrolet colors at Bristol. The rejuvenated seven-time Winston Cup champion has been causing fans to vacate their seats and rumble the grandstands with cheers so far this season. It seems that when there is a serious battle for the lead, Earnhardt is there. He doesn't need directions to victory lane either. The intimidating driver in the black Monte Carlo have won the Food City 500 three times ('85, '87, and '94). With Earnhardt's new "game face", he could notch a victory at Bristol for the third decade in-a-row.

Short track racing excitement has returned. The friendships, refreshments, and conversation will be practiced among the fans. For the drivers it will be on-track-battles, metal grinding, and spark-producing war. Welcome back to Bristol NASCAR. Sheet-metal workers...get ready for a busy weekend.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.