Well, the fat lady hasn't sung yet but she's certainly tuning up. Tony Stewart is just three races away from his first Winston Cup Championship.
All he has to do is average ninth or better in the remaining three races this season. If he accomplishes that, it doesn't matter what anyone else does.
It's been a strange season for Winston Cup with odd changes in the points lead. However Stewart, whose Joe Gibbs Pontiac was abominable in 2001, is on top in a season where no driver has had a really stellar run. Only a handful of drivers are now within range to take the title from Stewart if he should stumble. My favorite pick would be Mark Martin, who has been the bridesmaid in the Championship chase too many times.
Weather was the big factor last weekend, as both the Atlanta Winston Cup race and the CART event at Surfers Paradise in Australia suffered at the hands of Mother Nature. Strategy was the key to the Winston Cup win for Kurt Busch while survival, luck, and a controversial decision by officials determined
the outcome of the CART race. First-time winner Mario Dominguez took the checker behind the pace car in a torrential downpour. Dominguez' team leader Adrian Fernandez was sidelined in a first-lap, multi-car accident and thoracic fractures will sideline him for today's California Speedway race.
Mad Max Papis will sit in for Fernandez, who hopes to be back in the cockpit for the season-ending event in Mexico City.
Next weekend I'm putting on my race announcer hat and traveling to Daytona for a Grand Am sports car race, the final event for the Sports Racing Prototype class that has been featured at the 24 Hours of Daytona for the past several years. I recently learned that former Daytona 24 winner Danny Ongais will be racing in the event. Older race fans may remember Danny as a ferocious competitor in NHRA drag racing before switching to sports cars and Indy cars. I remember seeing one of Danny's first road race outings at the old Riverside track about 25 years ago. I was racing that weekend myself but
I went down to the pit lane to watch Danny race in a Lola Formula 5000 car.
I'd never seen anyone attack Turn One like he did in that Lola. It will be good to see him race again.
There's an action proceeding through the legal process that could have an effect on the makeup of the most popular form of motorsport in this country.
Earlier this year a suit was filed against NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation by a stockholder in Speedway Motorsports, Inc. The suit sought a second Winston Cup date at Texas Motor Speedway, an SMI track, alleging that
NASCAR had promised the second date. Normally one might dismiss this action as just another nuisance suit, but it has antitrust implications. This is because the France family, which owns NASCAR, a privately held corporation, also controls ISC, a publicly held company which is the largest racetrack operator in the country.
Coincidentally, ISC tracks seem to have an easier time getting Winston Cup, Busch Grand National, and Craftsman Truck dates
than tracks owned by other companies. And with new tracks at Kansas; Joliet, Illinois; Homestead; and Fontana (acquired from the Penske organization) getting added races, there's no room for a second Texas Cup race on NASCAR's already pitifully overloaded schedule.
Recently a motion filed by NASCAR to dismiss the case was turned down and it could go to trial before the end of the year. Anti-trust ramifications of the case are similar to the recent government arguments in the Microsoft case, where the company makes the operating system (Windows) and then supplies applications, which only work with that operating system. The relationship between NASCAR's awarding of event sanctions and the ISC-owned tracks may be viewed as a similar situation.
Finally, it appears that the Dan Gurney All-American Formula 1 race team that was ballyhooed at Indy during the U.S. Grand Prix is going to be a non-starter. Gurney remains optimistic for a possible 2004 debut but financing is going to be almost impossible. Nice try though, Dan.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.