Three-time NASCAR champion
Darrell"Jaws" Waltrip takes the wheel for an insider's lap of
All good sports stories must start with a recap. When NASCAR roared
into its 2001 season at the Daytona 500 last February, flush with
new sponsorships and a multiyear, $2.4 billion national TV
contract, it was hoped to be the rousing start of a breakthrough
year, one that would put stock car racing front and center.
It did, but not for reasons that anyone would have chosen. That
particular race concluded with Dale Earnhardt's horrific last-lap
crash. The 49-year-old "Intimidator" in his legendary No. 3 car was
the face of NASCAR, but his death, while initially casting a pall
over the Winston Cup Series championship, ended up focusing the
public's attention on the sport as never before.
They saw 30-year-old glamour boy Jeff Gordon win his fourth
championship title, and others complete unexpected victory routes -
in a dogfight for first in the standings, there were 19 winners,
including five first-time victors - more than in any previous
NASCAR champion and FOX commentator Darrell Waltrip (whose brother
Michael won the race that took Earnhardt's life) buckles us in
behind the wheel of this close-quarter, hard-charging motor sport
for a review of the 2001 season and a road map of the 2002 season,
which kicked off at the Daytona 500 last month (and ended with Ward
Burton taking the checkered flag after a three-lap shootout) and
finishes at the Homestead 400 on November 17.
American Way: What was the impact of Dale Earnhardt's death in
that first race last season?