Competitiors ready for holidays

Happy Holidays for NASCAR competitors means many things; win for Petty, ride for Spencer, smooth season for Stewart top NASCAR Christmas list. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Dec. 18, 2002) -- While this may indeed be the most wonderful time of the year,...

Happy Holidays for NASCAR competitors means many things; win for Petty, ride for Spencer, smooth season for Stewart top NASCAR Christmas list.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Dec. 18, 2002) -- While this may indeed be the most wonderful time of the year, for most people it's also the most frenzied. But for NASCAR drivers, it amounts to a significant downshift compared to the intensity of the racing season.

Mark Martin, a competitor who personifies intensity, is a different man come December. Martin welcomes the chance to rest, reflect -- and recharge.

"I really, really look forward to the Christmas holidays," said Martin, who finished second in the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship. "There is enough time where there's really nothing going on [with racing], no real demands on me that come Jan. 1, I am ready. I am ready to get out and go to the race track and make that [car] fast."

Martin's approach is mirrored by many other drivers. Holiday celebrations are cherished, make no mistake. But at the same time, they can't help but to be thinking ahead.

Like Kurt Busch, Martin's Roush Racing teammate, says: "The racing wheels never stop; they are always turning."

But, since they are undoubtedly turning a bit slower than usual, this is a good chance to assemble a "Christmas List" for NASCAR drivers. One driver, though, needs no help. That would be Jody McCormick, driver of the No. 77 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. McCormick loves this time of year; Dec. 25 is also his birthday. He and his wife Lori, the team owner, would love to score big this season.

"My Christmas wish," Lori McCormick said, "is that my children will know how much they are loved. But if Santa wants to leave me a little sponsor in my stocking, I'll take it."

With that appropriate lead-in, here are some other gift wishes:

A victory for Kyle Petty in 2003. Remember the emotion when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July 2001? Rest assured, the reaction would be similar if Petty were to win his first race since 1995. Since the death of his son Adam, Kyle has personified dignity and determination while continuing to compete. He has continued his charitable work, and expanded upon it with the founding of the Victory Junction Gang Camp for seriously ill children.

For years, Kyle was criticized for not matching up to the on-track standards set by his father Richard, "The King." Such criticism seems like ancient history these days.

The King, it's plain to see, clearly has been followed by a Prince of a guy.

A smooth off-track 2003 experience for Tony Stewart. A funny thing happened to Stewart on the way to accepting the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup champion's trophy in New York City. He found out that dealing with the media could be, well, almost fun. Stewart, saying that being away from a race track made all the difference, was polite, accommodating and entertaining during "Champion's Week" in the Big Apple. He even endeared himself to photographers, producing a camera at the awards ceremony to take pictures himself, of those photographers covering the event. As he defends his title in 2003, here's hoping the fun continues.

A new full-time ride for Jimmy Spencer. Talk about a sleeping giant. Here's a driver who, if he ever started winning NASCAR Winston Cup races regularly, would likely become immensely popular. He has folk-hero potential. He's funny, frank, sometimes brash but always honest, with a guy-next-door quality almost anyone can relate to. He's also a great driver. Put it all together and it's easy to understand why they call him "Mr. Excitement."

A contending season for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior has become an icon before his time. All things considered, he has dealt admirably with the enormous pressure of his late father's legacy. The next step would be to challenge for the NASCAR Winston Cup championship. It would be nice to see that develop.

It has been said that while Junior obviously has inherited some talent, perhaps the greatest gift his father left him was his fan following. It would be nice to see them rejoice in a splendid Earnhardt season.

A contending season for Kerry Earnhardt. Junior's older brother had a so-so 2002 campaign in the NASCAR Busch Series, finishing 22nd in points. But there were flashes of family brilliance, like his second-place finish at Kansas Speedway, where he was beaten only by NASCAR Winston Cup regular Jeff Burton.

This Earnhardt has his father's looks and a lot of his off-track mannerisms. Thus the wish for him to start resembling his father on the track more often.

Recovery and rebound for Sterling Marlin. Merry Christmas, Sterlin'. You deserve it, after 2002's disappointment. This past season will forever be remembered by Marlin as a lost opportunity. After leading the points most of the season, Marlin began to falter, then had to wave off the rest of the season because of a potentially serious neck injury. Here's another folk-hero type who would make many folks happy by returning to form in 2003.

Return to glory for Rudd, Woods. On paper, this is a dream matchup, one of NASCAR's great competitors with one of NASCAR's most hallowed teams, Wood Brothers Racing. Both driver and team could use a boost, to return to the spotlight.

And, at some point, a NASCAR Winston Cup championship for Mark Martin. Who can root against this? Four times a series runner-up, Martin has had the hard luck of losing out to some of NASCAR's greatest drivers. Twice he was runner-up to seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, once to four-time champion Jeff Gordon. His runner-up finish to Stewart in 2002 showed he still has a chance to finally win the elusive first title.

And finally, these "stocking stuffers": For Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman, brand-new Dodges under the tree but ready to be rolled out at Daytona testing next month, as Penske Racing makes the switch from Fords. ... A victory for Wallace, who had his string of seasons with at least one victory end at 16 this year. ... For Tony Stewart, a gold frame for his anger management class certificate. ... For Kevin Harvick, a season-long seat in the drivers' meeting next to his "arch-rival" Greg Biffle. ... For golf enthusiast Dale Jarrett, a round at Augusta National with Tiger Woods. ... For Michael Waltrip, a victory at a track other than Daytona International Speedway. ... For Johnny Benson, another victory, so people can't call his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory, at Rockingham last month, a fluke.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Kyle Petty , Jimmy Spencer , Greg Biffle , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Johnny Benson , Kerry Earnhardt , Mark Martin
Teams Team Penske , Wood Brothers Racing