Rockingham: Event preview

Disappointments at Daytona 500 have not deterred drivers' championship hopes in recent seasons. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 19, 2003) -- Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. shouldn't fret over their disappointing finishes in the Daytona 500. It...

Disappointments at Daytona 500 have not deterred drivers' championship hopes in recent seasons.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 19, 2003) -- Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. shouldn't fret over their disappointing finishes in the Daytona 500.

It may actually bode well for their NASCAR Winston Cup title aspirations if recent history extends itself. Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) finished 36th and Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) finished 43rd last Sunday, but three of the last four NASCAR Winston Cup champions have finished 30th or worse in the Daytona 500 and still managed to win the championship.

Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet) finished last -- 43rd -- in last year's Daytona 500 and then marched to the NASCAR Winston Cup crown. In 2001, Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) won the series title after finishing 30th in the Daytona 500.

Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup champion, interrupted the streak with a sixth-place finish in the Daytona 500, but 1999 champion Dale Jarrett (No. 99 UPS Ford) had to bounce back from a 37th-place finish in "The Great American Race."

"Just look at Stewart last year," said Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), who is looking to rebound from a 25th-place finish at the Daytona 500. "He blows up at Daytona and finishes dead last. He got off to a really tough start and didn't even show up on the radar screen as far as the points go until pretty deep into the season. Yet they were able to mount a charge and bring home that big trophy at the end of the year. The big thing is not getting all freaked out just about the first race of the year. At the end of the day, there are 36 races that all have the same amount of points."

On the flip side for reigning Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), winning one of the world's most prestigious races and getting off to a great start does not exactly enhance the chances of a NASCAR Winston Cup title. Only six times in history has the Daytona 500 winner gone on to win the series crown, and just twice in the last 25 years.

The most recent were Gordon in 1997 and Richard Petty in 1979. Petty also accomplished the feat three other times (1964, '71, '74) while Cale Yarborough was the other to beat the odds in 1977.

The odds are not much better when it comes to following up a Daytona 500 victory with a win the following week. Since 1982 when the Daytona 500 became the season opening race, only one driver has won the first two races of the season. Gordon accomplished the feat in 1997 when he followed his Daytona 500 victory by winning at North Carolina Speedway, site of Sunday's Subway 400.

"A good Daytona can give you a lot, but a good Rockingham can too," said Kyle Petty (No. 45 Georgia Pacific Dodge). "A good Rockingham can undo a not-so-good Daytona. It can give you the impetus you need that carries you on into Vegas and Atlanta and on and on."

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Michael Waltrip , Kyle Petty , Ryan Newman , Richard Petty , Cale Yarborough