The 2001 W.C. season has been a memorable one, at the very least, odd. From the return of the Dodge margue at Daytona to the eventual crowning of a rookie as W.C. champion at the season finale in Atlanta.
This is how it was;
Jeff Gordon's Dupont Chevy was sporting it's first new regular paint scheme when the W.C. circus hit Daytona. Jeff won the Daytona pole and started first in the first 125 mile qualifier. After leading every lap and winning his qualifier by two laps in a caution free race, it was found his new paint had special qualities that allowed the car to slip through the air with zero resistence. NASCAR stripped him of the win and pole qualifying time. Rumor has it that Ray Evernham blew the whistle on his former teams use of it's new space age paint. As a result, Jeff had to use his first ever provisional to start the Daytona 500.
Coincidentally, Bill Elliot now started the Daytona 500 from pole, heading up 11 other Dodges starting in the first 14 positions. However, misfortune set in as Elliot blew a right front tire on lap 3 and crashing out 10 other Dodges. Only Ward Burton was able to avoid the carnage in his Dodge, but the engine blew up on lap 240 while leading. Soon to be ROTY and W.C. champ Kurt Busch, "dodged" numerous wrecks to win in his first Daytona 500.
Big news rumbled across stock car land the following morning as NASCAR announced that effective immediately, all races except the 2 road courses would be restrictor plate races. Included in the announcement was, "and if that guy in the black #3 says one more time that plate racing isn't racing", "we'll take action to relegate him to obscurity much as we have with, what's his name, the guy who drove the #25 Folgers car". Dale Earnhardt was overheard saying, "cool, I do pretty good at restrictor plate tracks".
When they got to Charlotte for the 600, Busch had a 451 point lead, having finshed in the top 3 every race but one. That being Atlanta, when the Bodine brothers finished 1, 2, 3 in a dead heat and the camera couldn't even identify as to who won. The brothers couldn't resist and crashed into each other after crossing the finish line. The fight that broke out between them after climbing from their smoking wrecks brought back memories of classic 3 Stooges routines.
Tony Stewart and Scott Pruit missed the start of the 600 after missing their flight out from Indianapolis where they had just ran in the 500. Proctor and Gamble was so upset they pulled their Tides sponsership from the team. Home Depot fined Tony one million dollars.
Half the cars at the 600 had special paint, the Chrome Illusion type, which played havoc with the fans and the entire (new) television crew who was just finally starting to figure what driver drove what car. With all the changing color patterns no one seemed to know who was where. The network focused on Scott Pruit at the finish as if he'd won, even though he was 27 laps down after starting the race late. NASCAR even directed Pruit to winners circle having watched the monitor instead of checking the electronic scoring. The following day it was announced that no more special paint schemes would be allowed. Gulp! NASCAR did something right.
The first Dover race in June, was the body shops worst nightmare. No less then 23 cars were involved in a second lap trash fest. Bill Elliot managed to thread his way through the carnage and bring home both his and Dodges first wins in many years. Ray Evernham got so excited when Bill crossed the finish line that he fell off the war wagon. His fall was broken by landing on Dale Earnhardt who it is thought was spying on the "9" teams operation. Dale had earlier retired in the second lap wreck. Ray got up and dusted himself off and said, "thanks man". Dale just stood there dazed and mumbled, "restrictor plates suck".
Next they were off to the road course in Sonoma. Dale Earnhardt was looking forward to a race without restrictor plates but every time a shadow passed over he ducked. In qualifying, a cloud passed over and he drove off on to the old carousel portion of the track. Did it three more times during the race. Talk about having a cloud hanging over you. Fortunately, the next race would be the 400 night race at Daytona.
End of Part I
The Lawn Mower Repair Man; Bob Solesbee :<=