Watkins Glen: The Veterans - NASCAR spotlight

"Young Guns" being holstered by NASCAR Winston Cup Series Veterans. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 7, 2002) - The fanfare has subsided in recent weeks, regarding the cadre of"young guns" seemingly taking over the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The reason...

"Young Guns" being holstered by NASCAR Winston Cup Series Veterans.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 7, 2002) - The fanfare has subsided in recent weeks, regarding the cadre of"young guns" seemingly taking over the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The reason for that is simple: the"old guard" has reclaimed lost ground and reminded fans of past achievements that helped build stock car racing's popularity.

Bill Elliott's back-to-back victories the past two weeks have provided the latest proof that older may end up being better after all, this season. Going into Sunday's Sirius Satellite Radio At The Glen, five of the top 10 drivers in series points are over the age of 40, starting with 46-year-old Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge), who leads the standings.

Farther down the list:

The 43-year-old Mark Martin (No. 6 Pfizer/Viagra Ford) is third; 45-year-old Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford) is fifth; 46-year-old Elliott (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) is sixth; and 45-year-old Ricky Rudd (No. 28 Havoline Ford) is eighth.

This resurgence by series veterans began 10 races ago, on May 26, in the Coca-Cola Racing Family 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In that event - the longest and arguably the most demanding on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series - Martin won, and reestablished himself as a series championship contender.

Martin started a trend. Since the 600, in the just-completed 10-race span, half of the victories have been by over-40 drivers.

Wallace, second to Elliott in last Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, thinks older drivers' successes should surprise no one.

"These guys are all great drivers and we're all doing our job," Wallace said."I will tell you, it's not like stick and ball [sports] - how fast you can run and how much weight you can lift. In NASCAR, it's about how much you know and how long you've been there and understanding springs and shocks and your competitors."

Elliott and his team understood what it took to get around Indy, his fellow veterans acknowledged.

"He hasn't lost a thing," said Wallace.

"He was gone... that Dodge was in another league," said Marlin.

Marlin has led the points since the second race of the season, Feb. 24 at Rockingham (N.C.). He welcomes the competition from the younger crowd, even though it's complicating his attempt to win the NASCAR Winston Cup championship for the first time.

"The young guys are really coming on good; the rookies seem to run good everywhere they go," Marlin said.

"Us old guys are going to have to step it up a little bit."

That should be no problem. Marlin's motivation is clear: a first series championship. Same for Martin and Rudd. Elliott and Wallace are past series champions (1988 and' 89, respectively) who would cherish a second title - at least - before leaving the sport. All were likely boosted somewhat - even runner-up Wallace - by Elliott's resounding victory at Indy.

Elliott's resurgence has him thinking about not only the rest of this season, but beyond. And it has him feeling anything but old. The 227-race/seven-year winless streak he endured from 1994-2001 is history. Ancient history.

"I feel like I've had a second chance at life," Elliott said."Every bit of the struggles and trials and tribulations we went through in the 90s, I'm glad I stuck through it."

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

* Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) is running out of time. A successful defense of his 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup title looks more unlikely every week. But maybe this week will be the start of a turnaround. Gordon, winless since September of last season (Kansas Speedway) - a streak of 29 races - has won four out of the last five races at Watkins Glen, including last year's.

* Mark Martin ruled Watkins Glen from 1994-96, as the polesitter and race winner three consecutive years. Martin also finished second in 1989,' 98 and 2000. His three victories at Watkins Glen are second all-time only to Gordon's four. Martin has the best average finish of all active drivers at Watkins Glen (5.8).

* Two other veterans in the series championship hunt, Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd, have two Watkins Glen victories apiece. Wallace won in 1987 and' 89; Rudd won in' 88 and' 90.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Rusty Wallace , Sterling Marlin , Mark Martin