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Looking Back: Races 1-6
Charlie Young

Here we are, six races into the 2001 season. And what a wild one it has been. Michael Waltrip won his first race at the Daytona 500, while Dale Earnhardt is killed in that very same race. Waltrip was the first of three first-time winners in Winston Cup so far this season. That list also includes Kevin Harvick, who took over for the late Earnhardt, and Elliott Sadler. Bobby Labonte, last years champion, is mired in 19th place in the points standings. Finally, and most important as far as this writer is concerned, Jeff Gordon fans have seen a resurgence of their favorite driver. The predictors of Jeff Gordon's return to championship form rejoice, the nay-sayers look on with dropped jaws.

After a devastating finish of 30th in the season's first race, a third-place finish at Rockingham, a win at Las Vegas, and a close second-place finish at Atlanta catapulted Gordon into the points lead. However, a blown engine at Darlington dropped him back to fourth. He recovered two spots to move into second via a fourth place finish at Bristol. This finish at Bristol did not come easy, however. Gordon had to fight Tony Stewart hard for it, accidentally putting him into the wall. Stewart retaliated after the race by spinning Jeff on pit road, but Stewart's tantrum cost him when NASCAR gave him a $10,000 fine.

While we're on short tracks, let's talk about Martinsville. Gordon has three wins at the flat half-mile track, including the first race after the departure of Ray Evernham, but they're not satisfied. The #24 team tested at Martinsville this week, and seems to have found something good.

"We still have some adjusting to do on it to make it good on the long runs, but we feel like we’ve found something that will be extremely competitive when we come back here," Gordon said.

Testing at Martinsville

Jeff had the fastest time in the second day of testing.

Martinsville and Bristol are tough tracks, as short tracks always are. However, to Jeff Gordon they're not as tough as Texas Motor Speedway, which just happens to be where the big boys head this weekend. In four starts at this track, Jeff has never finished higher than 25th. He accomplished this last year even after being involved in an accident including Bill Elliott and team mate Jerry Nadeau. The three previous trips to Texas have all been marred by accidents, including a cut tire and a second lap crash.

So are you worried about what could happen this weekend?

Don't be.

Texas is a track that owes Jeff at least a top-five, plus this team is on a roll. They've pulled it together to lead the most laps and most miles, take home the most money, and record the most top-fives of any team this season. If it weren't for a blown engine at Darlington, our man would be leading the points right now.

It's too early to tell, but I predict that Jeff will be at least in a close hunt for the championship. 80% of you, in a poll at JGG, predicted that Jeff Gordon would the the 2001 Winston Cup Champion. Even though NASCAR fans are eternally optimistic, I think that they are on the right track.


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