Earlier this year, we asked you to participate in Stock Car Racings Readers Choice Awards. We didnt have the assistance of some fancy accounting firm in tabulating the results, but here goes anyway. May we have the envelope, please?
BEST OVERALL DRIVER: JEFF GORDON
This months Stock Car Racing cover story explores the love/hate relationship people have with Jeff Gordon. The Readers Choice ballots offer a good example of how that relationship works.
Many readers were more than willing to give Gordon the nod as Best Overall Driver. Others did so only after much agonizing. They gave him their vote with the eagerness of a kid ready to take a dose of medicinethey wished no one was looking so they wouldnt have to go through with it.
This goes to show that when the chips are down, most readers would put their money on Gordon whether the racetrack were short, long, fat, skinny or curvy. It doesnt matter. Gordon has passed the test of a true champion by manhandling any track.
Since entering Winston Cup competition, Gordon has rewritten the formula for what makes a successful team. The NASCAR record book has quickly turned into his personal life story.
How appropriate that Gordons first Winston Cup race, the 1992 season-ending event at Atlanta, would be Richard Pettys final race. No, there will never be another King, but by the time Gordon is through, few records may be left standing.
I am not a Jeff Gordon fan, but you have to give credit where its due. Ken Fechter, West Bend, WI
Talented. Good looking. Classy. Evelyn Anzelone, Hartselle, AL
Truth hurts. Tony Hogan, Temple, OK
Wins at every style of track. Tim Lemieur, Deerwood, MN
BEST SHORT-TRACK DRIVER: RUSTY WALLACE
This was a landslide victory for Rusty Wallace, and could there be any doubt? Of his 54 Winston Cup wins through Julys New Hampshire race, 28 were on tracks of a mile or less. No wonder you folks consider him to be the king of the short tracks.
I go into a short-track race just knowing I can win there, Wallace told Stock Car Racing in the June issue (Big Man On Short Tracks). Indeed competitors know when they pull into any short track that Wallace will be a force to be reckoned with.
Always the man to beat at Martinsville, Bristol. Tom Przybocki, Clinton Township, MI
I really dont like him, but hes the best. Kenneth G. Barnes, Hamilton Township, NJ
BEST SUPERSPEEDWAY DRIVER: DALE EARNHARDT
Sure, weve heard all the stories about how Dale Earnhardt could see the air and work the draft like no other driver. But there was no weird science at work here. This guy just knew how to work traffic, and had the nerves of steel to go with it.
Earnhardt may be gone, but he set the benchmark by which future drivers will be judged at superspeedways.
He could work and feel the draft better than anyone. Kelly Braun, Clinton, MO
Miss his style. Huntley Barns, Medford, OR
Some loved him, some hated him, but everybody knew him! Chris DeMarsh, Louisville, KY
BEST RACETRACK: BRISTOL
Funny how this works. The tracks many drivers hate, the fans flock to. Nowhere is that more obvious than at Bristol Motor Speedway, a tough half-mile monster lurking in the mountains of east Tennessee.
Drivers have had much to say about this place. Some have even suggested the best use for Bristol would be to fill it with water and stock it with fish. All you can catch there now is exciting, fender-banging action that never leaves you disappointed. Thats why this is usually the toughest ticket to land in all of NASCAR.
Not all drivers may warm to Bristol, but a win there can do wonders for your resume. In 21 of 39 years since Bristol opened, a driver who won a Winston Cup race there went on to win the series title later that same year.
Darrell Waltrip once owned the track, if not financially then at least competitively. He has a record 12 wins at Bristol, including seven in a row.
Bumping and grinding! Donald McMinn Jr., Port Deposit, MD
Its a cool racetrack. Karen Emmerich, DuBoir, PA
The best racing in NASCAR. You win there, youre a man. Mike Hendricks, Lena, WI
I love high-speed, short-track racing. Mark Ditsworth, Bancroft, IA
BEST ROOKIE: KEVIN HARVICK
This one wasnt even close, and for good reason. Kevin Harvick jumped into the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet following Dale Earnhardts death and has been nothing short of spectacular since then. By midseason he had posted his second win.
As if gunning for Winston Cup rookie honors isnt enough, Harvick also runs full time in the NASCAR Busch Series, where for most of the season hes been the man to beat in the title hunt.
No comparison to other rookies. Ted Pushak, Cortland, OH
Smart driver. Learns fast. Kelly J. Creason, Jefferson City, MO
BEST PAINT SCHEME: NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET
The DuPont Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon took on a new look in 2001, borrowing from a paint design thats been around as long as the hot rod.
The flames replaced the rainbow paint scheme that became all too familiar in Gordons run to three Winston Cup championships and 50 wins. The team had already found its pot of gold and was poised for the next challenge.
Motorsports artist Sam Bass, who designed the original rainbow car, also came up with the flame design.
He says he wanted to consider another force of nature as the theme for the new scheme. I wanted to create a hot new look, so what better force of nature to use than fire?
Stands up in sun/moonlight. Joan P. OBrien, Cheshire, CT
Flame thrower. You cant beat this paint job. Gary D. Compton, Lowell, AK
BEST CREW CHIEF: RAY EVERNHAM
You know youre good when a carmaker asks you to head up its return to Winston Cup Racing. Such was the case when Dodge lured Ray Evernham away from Hendrick Motorsports, where Evernham had worked magic with a kid named Jeff Gordon.
Evernhams a master of the machine and one of the sports best motivators.
Smart, intelligent, great organizer, team player. Daniel Demskie, Hancock, IW
He took a young driver and made him a champion. Matt Iwanski, Nashotah,WI
MOST UNDERRATED DRIVER: JOHNNY BENSON
Johnny Benson has never liked the term underrated. Hes confident of his abilities, so much so that he left Roush Racing prior to the end of the 1999 season because he felt like he was spinning his wheels.
He entered the 2000 season without a sponsor, striking up a deal with Lycos just before the start of the Daytona 500. The team later dropped Lycos and nearly folded before Aarons came to the rescue with the needed sponsorship dollars.
Benson now has his feet planted firmly in the ground with a sponsorship from Valvoline, which also owns part of the team. By mid-season, he was still chasing his first Winston Cup victory, but several strong runs kept the confidence building.
Benson knows the team is developing the needed chemistry to contend for the championship, and thats exactly what he plans to be doing in 2002. If he pulls that off, he may just put his underrated days behind him.
Watch him! Dale Davenport, Cato, NY
Hes gonna win! Tricia Haddaway, Lawton, OK
Give him Gordons budget and lets see. Mike Terrian, West Fargo, ND
BEST OVERALL TEAM: NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET
A look at the mid-season stats makes this selection hard to argue. The DuPont Chevrolet team had Jeff Gordon in a tie for first place in the Winston Cup point standings, and had prepared the machines Gordon had driven to three victories.
On top of that, Gordon led the series in money won, with earnings of $4.2 million, nearly $1.5 million more than the driver ranking second in this category. Also, Gordon had led the most laps at the halfway point. In fact, he had led 2.5 times as many laps as the next driver in line. Gordon also had won more poles than any other driver. Is this all starting to sound familiar?
This is quite a comeback for a team whose boat had been seriously rocked. Crew chief Ray Evernham, who led the team to three championships, left in 1999 to head up Dodges return to Winston Cup racing. Then many of the original Rainbow Warriors pit crew jumped ship to Dale Jarretts No. 88 Ford.
Now, all those new faces working on the DuPont Chevrolet appear to have found that winning chemistry. Theyre building fast cars and making fast pit stops. Forget talk of rebuilding; these guys are ready for a fourth Winston Cup championship.
Ive seen this team get stronger and stronger each weekend, Gordon said after winning Michigan in June. I believe we can get even stronger.
That could be bad news for the other teams in the Winston Cup garage.
Gordon and the Rainbow Warriors are always on top of their race. Chad Migues, Navasota, TX
Is smoking. Wade Crouse, Reidsville, NC
Getting it together consistently. Robert Borynski, South Bay, FL
A total class act. Bob C. Bakaysa, Madera, PA
BEST DRIVER OF ALL TIME: DALE EARNHARDT
All Dale Earnhardt wanted to do was drive a race car. That desire motivated him to quit school at 16 so he could work on his fathers race car, and drove him to push the limits of his skills and equipment long before a pot of gold waited at the finish line.
Drivers knew if they had Earnhardt in their rearview mirror, one of two things was going to happenEarnhardt was either going around them, or going over them. Either way, he was going to work his way to the front.
While most drivers find their skills waning late in their career, Earnhardt kept fighting. He finished second in points in 2000, leaving many to think that the 2001 season would be his year to win a record eighth Winston Cup championship.
We want to win that eighth championship, Earnhardt once told Stock Car Racing. Thats what my life and career has been all about: winning championhips. Nobodys ever won eight before, and thats what were shooting for.
Now, all that people can do is ask, What if?
Many readers cast a vote for Richard Petty, and its easy to agree with them. In the end, however, the majority of readers gave Earnhardt the title, saying his accomplishments are all that more impressive given the time period and level of competitors he faced.
Some people didnt care for Earnhardts liberal use or fenders and bumpers, but when it came down to raw talent and sheer determination, he was in a class of his own. According to most of our readers, he was the best ever.
What can you say about a seven-time champion and someone who I greatly miss on the track. Michael Carter, Woodbridge, VA
He did it all and did it all his way. Mark Ayers, Bluff City, TN
Best driver to ever buckle the helmet on. Jeff Welch, West Union, OH
Do you need a comment? Art Wiley, Pittsburgh, PA
Simply the best! Larry Hoveland, Edmonds, WA