Winston Cup points race coming down to the wire

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The Winston Cup points race has really tightened up with only nine races to go. Sterling Marlin lost the points lead at New Hampshire a week ago, handing over the reins to Mark Martin. My earlier prognostication of another Jeff Gordon championship may have been a bit premature, although he's currently fifth in points and definitely within striking distance. There are realistically five, and maybe seven, drivers who could take home the title this season, and I'm sure the NASCAR marketing people are loving it!

Personally, I'd love to see Mark Martin win the championship that has eluded him for so long. Martin is one of the truly nice guys in the sport, a gentleman who races everybody clean.

Over on the open-wheel side of the fence, the Andretti Green team announced what was pretty much a foregone conclusion, that it would be competing in the Indy Racing League in 2002. The three drivers will be Michael Andretti, Dario Franchitti, and Tony Kanaan, who is leaving Mo Nunn's team after a frustrating season of DNF (did not finish) results. This latest defection just about completes the turnaround from 1996, when Tony George took his ball (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and went home, splitting big-time open-wheel racing in this country in two. In the early years of the split, Championship Auto Racing teams had big fields and lots of fans, while IRL languished with second-rate drivers, sparse fields, and small crowds. Now, after several years of mismanagement by CART, the shoe is on the other foot. The sad part is that the crowds are now lackluster for both series (with notable exceptions such as the Indy 500 for IRL and CART's Canadian venues). Most fans voted with their ticket dollars and went to NASCAR's Winston Cup, Busch, and Craftsman Truck races. CART, under the leadership of Chris Pook, is faced with the task of rebuilding the series. Reducing costs will enable some teams from feeder series like Formula Atlantic to step up to the Big League, and reduced sanctioning fees and self-promotion of events will keep CART's schedule filled, but it's going to be an uphill battle.

History will be made at Indianapolis next weekend, when 21-year-old IRL driver Sarah Fisher will become the first woman to drive a contemporary Formula 1 car in over a decade. Fisher will take a demonstration run in a McLaren MP4-17 after Friday's practice session for the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis. It will be interesting to see how Fisher, with only oval track experience, handles the McLaren on the USGP road course. There's also the fact that she'll have a lot more power under her right foot than she is used to. For you trivia buffs, the last woman to drive an F1 car was Italian racer Giovana Amati, who never managed to qualify her Brabham for a race in 1992.

Another Italian, Lella Lombardi, scored half a championship point at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix. It will be the first time in McLaren's 39-year history that a female has driven one of the constructor's F1 cars.

Much has been said of late about crowding in the NASCAR garage area. A Garage Pass, which used to be a tough ticket to get, has now become a big revenue source for tracks and a perk for sponsor guests, and as a result the drivers and crews can hardly get their jobs done for fear of running over, or being trampled by, race fans. NASCAR has always prided itself on the accessibility of their drivers, but the situation appears to have gotten out of hand. What other major league sport allows fans in the locker room, in the dugout, the penalty box, or the end zone? The worst part is that a lot of these folks have no clue as to how to behave in the pits, and it's just a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt. And then the personal injury vultures, er, lawyers will swoop, handing out subpoenas to the track, NASCAR, the teams, and everyone within a five-mile radius. No, it's time to get the situation under control before something really bad happens (and not just Tony Stewart punching out an obnoxious fan).

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.


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