Grass is Greener in second place By Brett Borden
LOS ANGELES (Jan. 7, 2000) Jeff Green had a "career year" in 1999 and will walk across the Busch Series Banquet stage for the third time, as the runner-up to two-time champion Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jeff Green did the unthinkable in 1999, and it still wasn't enough. The 37-year-old Owensboro, Ky., native beat overwhelming odds by placing second in the final NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division point standings despite missing the second race of the season.
Green beat everybody but defending series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., even though he was hung out to dry when rain washed away Bud Qualifying at North Carolina Speedway. Green, a full-time driver in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series the year before, didn't have any provisionals to fall back on at that time because his outfit fielded by Progressive Motorsports was a new team.
But the driver of the No. 32 Kleenex/Scott Chevrolet shed no tears over his unfortunate situation. Instead, Green went on a tear and nearly pulled off the entire thing.
Green served notice that he would be a factor in 1999 in the first race of the year. At the NAPA Auto Parts 300 at Daytona International Speedway, he took runner-up honors behind only Randy LaJoie. In his sixth start, he topped that finish by winning the BellSouth Mobility 320 at Nashville Speedway USA. Green had cut his racing teeth on the half-mile oval.
It was Green's second career NASCAR Busch Series victory, one that brought him new respect, as well as a Gibson guitar. Coming from 18th to Victory Lane was music to his ears.
"We've been so close," he said afterward. "And now to win on one of my favorite tracks is really great."
Green finished second in Race No. 11, the New Hampshire 200, and also in the Textilease Medique 300 at South Boston (Va.) Speedway five races later. He nearly made it to Victory Lane again in Race No. 18 - the DieHard 250 at the Milwaukee Mile -- finishing runner-up only when Casey Atwood nudged past him on the last lap.
That was the first of five straight finishes of fourth or better, including his second win of the season in the Myrtle Beach 250 after starting 29th. It was a victory handed to him when teammate Jason Keller's tire went down in the final laps. Coming just two races after his close call with Atwood, Green had mixed emotions after the race.
"I didn't want to see Jason's left rear tire going down," he said. "It would've been alright if it'd been somebody else. He deserved to win, but we deserved to win last week. That's just the way racing is. You've gotta see the checkers before you can win anything."
Green saw the checkers one more time in 1999, and it was an emotional victory, to be sure.
Five days after the death of Amy Campbell, wife of car co-owner Bob Campbell, Green dominated the Sam's Town 250 at Memphis Motorsports Park. He dedicated the win to Mrs. Campbell's memory.
"The good Lord's got a better place for her right now, and she's looking down smiling on us right now. When it's your car owner's wife, you feel like it's one of your own. Amy was a go-getter. I know that she would've wanted us to come out here and do what we did today. We did it for her."
The victory set Green up for one last pass, though this one would be in the standings, not on the track. Green was in third place going into the season finale at Miami. By finishing fifth in the HotWheels.com 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Green made up 106 points on Matt Kenseth in the final race. Kenseth finished 38th, opening the door for Green to slide comfortably into second. It was an amazing feat for a driver who gave up one whole race on the schedule to the other top drivers.
With Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth moving on to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, Green will be one of the favorites to win the championship in 2000. And you can bet he won't need a provisional if it rains in Rockingham again.