Ford Championship weekend caps season for National Tours; Stewart, Bliss crowned Champions at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 21, 2002) -- NASCAR capped the 2002 season with all three national tours -- NASCAR Winston Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series -- competing at Homestead-Miami Speedway where the remaining two national titles were decided.
After beginning the season with a 43rd-place finish in the Daytona 500, Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac) rebounded to win his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship and will cash in on a $3.75-million payout from series sponsor Winston. Stewart's 18th-place finished at Homestead was strong enough to hold off Mark Martin (No. 6 Pfizer/Viagra Ford) by 38 points in the final driver point standings.
"I still have a hard time believing what we've done and accomplished this year," Stewart said. "None of us could have done it without the whole group. This was a team effort."
Stewart -- who scored three wins and led the circuit with 15 top-five finishes -- became the 25th driver to win the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in 54 years. Martin finished second in the championship hunt for the fourth time in his storied career (1990, 1994 and 1998).
Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid/Sharpie Ford) -- who won three of the last five races -- earned his fourth win of the year in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch's victory propelled him from sixth to third in the final driver point standings.
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) finished fourth and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) became just the second rookie driver in the modern era (since 1972) to finish in the top-five of the driver point standings (Stewart, 1999).
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship was also up for grabs entering the final race at Homestead. Mike Bliss' (No. 16 IWX Motor Freight/Knights Inn Chevrolet) fifth-place finish sealed his first NASCAR title by 46 points over Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Motel & RV Ford) while Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Performance Dodge) finished third, 51 points behind.
Like Stewart, Bliss recovered from a disappointing start -- a 33rd-place finish at the season opener at Daytona -- and led the series in top-five finishes with 13. Bliss, a native of Milwaukee, Ore., also scored a series high five wins and walked away with $894,388 in season earnings, the fourth largest season total in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series history.
The championship was especially rewarding for Bliss and Xpress Motorsports owner Steve Coulter, who had originally planned to run a limited schedule in 2002, but decided to chase the title after Bliss' third-place finish at Darlington in March.
Greg Biffle (No. 60 Grainger Ford), from Vancouver, Wash., was the second driver from the Pacific Northwest region to win one of NASCAR's three national touring divisions. Biffle became the first driver to win a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship (2000) and a NASCAR Busch Series championship when the 32-year-old driver locked up the title Nov. 9 at Phoenix.
"I'm so excited for everyone affiliated with this team I'm proud to be a part of it," said Biffle. "This has been a wonderful season and I'm going to miss racing in the NASCAR Busch Series. Jason (Keller) and the No. 57 team put up an awesome fight this year and I know they are going to be very successful next year."
Propelled by his fourth straight top-five finish at Homestead, Biffle finished 264 points ahead of second-place finisher Jason Keller (No. 57 Albertson's Ford). Keller led the most laps at Homestead (53), but was passed by Scott Wimmer on the final lap after running out of gas. Keller finished 15th while Wimmer cruised to his fourth win of the season.
IN OTHER NEWS...
Feast fit for a champion... The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series enjoyed its annual awards ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Sheraton Bal Harbour Hotel in Miami, Fla. ...The NASCAR Busch Series will officially crown Greg Biffle as the 2002 champion on Friday, Nov. 22 at the NASCAR Busch Series Awards Ceremony hosted at the Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando, Fla. The champion's portion of the record $2.5 million point fund put up by series sponsor Anheuser-Busch is expected to approach $1 million. ... A new venue for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Awards Ceremony in New York -- the Manhattan Center -- promises even more glitter in 2002. Tony Stewart -- who won the second championship in the last three years for Joe Gibbs Racing (Bobby Labonte, 2000) -- will take home the larger portion of a record $14 million point fund from series sponsor Winston, which will be divided among the top 25 finishers in the driver point standings. Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge) claimed the 25th and final point fund awarding position by 53 points over Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge).
Raybestos Rookies of the Year... All three Raybestos Rookie of the Year winners in NASCAR's national touring divisions earned victories in their rookie seasons. Both NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Rookie of the Year Brendan Gaughan and NASCAR Busch Series Rookie of the Year Scott Riggs went to Victory Lane in the seventh race of the 2002 season in each respective series. Gaughan took the checkered flag at Texas in June while Riggs earned his victory at Nashville in April. Gaughan beat out Bill Lester by 78 points, 289-211, while Riggs topped Johnny Sauter by 70 points, 327-257. Ryan Newman fought off Jimmie Johnson by just 23 points in a heated Raybestos Rookie of the Year battle in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Although Johnson finished higher -- fifth to Newman's sixth-place finish -- in the final driver point standings -- Newman more than doubled Johnson's (6) total of top-five finishes with 14.