Expect even more parity in NASCAR this year

January 29, 2002 5:12 AM
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The 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup season begins in two weeks at Daytona in what promises to be one of the most competitive seasons ever. After watching a record 18 different drivers win a race in 2001, it appears that parity is more evident in NASCAR than ever before. The trend shows it continuing that way based on the old record of 17 drivers to win in a season during the 2000 campaign.

Sponsors and multi-car teams have allowed for more drivers to be competitive. Owners have found over the last decade that they pool all the money from several sponsors to make each of their cars perform equally at the highest level possible, while also making a profit for their team. This formula has made the single car owned team nearly extinct and paved the way to success for several teams that had been mediocre in the past.

Based on the speeds in the early January testing at Daytona, the teams that appear to be the top contenders to win this years Daytona 500 are Hendrick Motorsports and DEI Enterprises. The Hendrick team had four of its cars among the top 13 fastest times. Rookie Jimmie Johnson (35-1), driving a car co-owned by Jeff Gordon, set the pace with the fastest time during the two-week test session.

Gordon (9-2) was the fifth fastest, while teammates Jerry Nadeau (35-1) finished 10th and Terry Labonte (35-1) running 13th. The best cumulative outing came from the top three drivers of DEI: Kenny Wallace (12-1), Dale Earnhardt Jr (3-1), and Michael Waltrip (35-1). who all finished in the top six.

The Hendrick team’s early success is somewhat of a surprise, but nothing has changed with DEI. One might have thought that with the significant change to the aero-package rules at the super speedways, that the dominance DEI experienced last season would be diminished. They dominated the super speedways, winning three of the four races last season including sweeping Daytona with 1-2 finishes in each race.

Odds are available at nearly every Las Vegas Sports Book and all have Junior in the favored slot. Two of the more interesting candidates to watch for in early wagering are Kenny Wallace and Ward Burton (12-1). Each posted top three times in the testing.

Now is the time to get in on some futures. Several books have odds to win the Winston Cup Championship with Jeff Gordon (3-1) and Tony Stewart (9-2) being the top two candidates to win the title.

Most of the Winston Cup teams are in Las Vegas testing this week. It’ll be their last test session before returning to Daytona for next week’s Budweiser shootout. During this test session last year, Jeff Gordon’s crew chief Robbie Loomis experimented with a few things on the long runs anticipating what the actual Vegas race would be like. It turned out to be the difference giving Gordon his first win in Las Vegas.