IRWINDALE, Calif. -- Brendan Gaughan was the champion as soon as the green flag waved. Bobby Dotter only saw one flag and that was the all-important checker.
A six-week layoff delayed Gaughan's coronation as the 2000 NASCAR Winston West Series champion, but the youngster from Las Vegas didn't want to sit and watch the Home Depot 300 unfold around him. He wanted to win.
"This season has been phenomenal from the start," Gaughan said. "We came in with a great team, we came with a great program. We started the year on Goodyears at Phoenix, we ran them for most of the first races, and Goodyear and the engineers have built a fantastic tire. They came up with this new tire for the bias-ply races that's just fantastic and ever since we've raced on this tire.
"We ran eight races this year on Goodyear and four on the competitor's tire, and as everybody knows, I'm a Goodyear boy at heart. I grew up with Little Joe Aguirre and Jim Alexander, who've taken care of me since I was 15 years old. Carolyn Ashbee and Darryl Duncan and all the guys here have been terrific to work with all year, making sure that we have the best tire possible at every track. If we had a problem, they'd come over and help us out. I'm proud to say I'm still a Goodyear boy, I'm going to live and die one. Even my colors are blue and yellow."
Austin Cameron edged out NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series champion Matt Crafton for the pole as Goodyear-shod cars dominated qualifying, taking nine of the top 10 spots. Cameron rocketed away at the start, but dropped back into the clutches of Crafton, Tim Woods and the charging John Metcalf, who picked his way through the crowd from 12th. Crafton, making is Winston West debut, and Metcalf quickly established themselves as the favorites, running away from the field after every restart.
Crafton established a big margin in the final 50 laps, lapping up to fifth place. His debut win was all but assured when the final caution flew on lap 292, setting up a green-white-checker finish. Just before the field lined up for the green flag, fifth-placed Dotter dove for the pits and four fresh Goodyears.
Dotter's two-lap run was reminiscent of Dale Earnhardt's thrilling victory at Talladega just weeks ago. When the green flew Dotter was able to dive low into Turn One as the five leaders jostled for position. Crafton emerged from the scrap to take the white flag first, but Dotter wasn't giving up. Crafton was bumped in Turn Three, robbing him of just enough momentum that Dotter nosed by in the final 100 yards for his fourth win of 2000 and second at Irwindale this season, with Gaughan finishing third. Metcalf and Joe Bean rounded out the all-Goodyear top five.
"It was one of the greatest last laps ever," Gaughan said. "To go out with a third and having a chance to win was our way of showing we were here all year and we were a contender. We just wanted to show it's one race at a time and that we were as good as we thought we were all year long."
Dotter's finished bumped him up to second in the final standings, the top finishing driver to run Goodyear at every race. "We're real excited about how this season has progressed. It's been a real pleasure working with Goodyear and I'm just happy to be the top guy," Dotter said. "At the newer tracks, like Irwindale and Utah, I feel that Goodyear gave us an excellent tire and that our setup was matched very well. Irwindale in June was the turning point. That's when Goodyear came out with the newer style tire and it's been real good since then. There's still a little bit of room for improvement, like on the tracks with older pavement, where our setup hasn't been that great."
Mario Gosselin can finally call himself a winner in the new millennium. With his USAR Hooters ProCup win at Florida Speedpark in St. Augustine, Gosselin has won at least one race in every season since the series' inception.
Clay Rogers set a new track record in qualifying on his Goodyear Eagles of 17.316 seconds, but he never led a lap in one of the most competitive races of the year. Six drivers ran out front before Gosselin was able to nail down the win over Stacy Puryear, Brian Vickers, Rogers and Jay Fogleman.
While all that was happening, Bobby Gill was quietly staying out of trouble to claim the championship. Although he led 35 laps, brake troubles forced Gill to run conservatively for the title.
A week earlier, the International Hot Rod Association finished its season with the rain delayed CARQUEST Autumn Nationals in Rockingham, N.C. Several championships were up for grabs, but most eyes were on the three-way fight for Top Fuel. Bruce Litton got as far as the semifinals before losing to Clay Millican, who set the IHRA marks of 4.679 seconds and 322.81 mph. That gave Millican a chance to wrest the title from Paul Romine, if Millican won and reset the ET record. Both cars went up in smoke at the 100-foot mark and a wild pedal race ensued. Millican hit the line first in 7.475 seconds, but Romine took the championship by just seven points.
"I'm still quite stunned with winning the championship," Romine said. "I never count points. With Clay and his guys setting records right and left, I didn't know where we stood. I said, 'Shoot. I have $60,000 worth of bills and $40,000 won't pay them.' But then, I figured out I won, and now I have $200,000 to pay the bills. That's great. I think I'm gonna take a few days off now."
Goodyear also earned four additional Pro wins to its IHRA tally, including Doug Vancil (Screamin' Eagle Nitro Harley), Steve Vick (Pro Modified), Tom Lee (Pro Stock) and Mick Snyder (Pro Outlaw).
The IHRA's Sportsman ranks added five more drivers to the Goodyear role call of champions from Rockingham, raising the count to 10 titles in the season finale. DeWayne Silance was tops in Top Sportsman, Jim Pergine won Top Dragster, Lynwood Daugherty claimed Modifieds, Scott Duggins outlasted Dave Blazier for the Quick Rod win and Gil Carty earned the Super Stock trophy.
Rockingham also added nine more names to the Goodyear list of champions, including Romine (Top Fuel Dragster; Jay Turner (Screamin' Eagle Nitro Harley), Jon Yoak (Pro Stock), Laurie Cannister (Pro Outlaw), Slate Cummings (Top Dragster), Dwayne Silance (Top Sportsman); Anthony Bertozzi (Modified and Super Stock, finally Scott Duggins (Quick Rod).
Scott Weney captured the Funny Car title at Shreveport last month.