Waltrip: I don't know where Jeff stacks up against the greats; I just know he's better than anybody else he's racing against right now. He's a very intelligent driver. Very patient. His consistency and his ability to be consistently fast won the championship.

American Way: What other 2001 events stuck out for you?
Waltrip: There were many highlights. Steve Park wins Rockingham, the second race, in a dramatic finish and he's on Earnhardt's team. Then we go to Atlanta and rookie Kevin Harvick, who's driving the basic car that Earnhardt drove, puts a great move on Gordon, and wins the race by a nose. And Dale Jr. goes back to Daytona in July and wins it for his father. So many amazing things. What was impressive were all the first-time winners. Every week it was like, Where did he come from?

American Way: Will Gordon repeat?
He's got everything: the right car, the right sponsor, the right crew, and he's on the top of his game.

He needs no mechanical failures. No communication breakdown with his crew. He's already good at every type of track - short, road, super speedway - and most drivers can't say that. He's got the overall package. Jeff is the standard-bearer and everyone is trying to match his consistency and performance.

American Way: What about the chances of veterans like Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett, who both chased the champion?
Ricky and Dale are certainly two mature drivers with a lot of experience, but I don't know if they have the resources that Jeff has. A lot of his success should be attributed to Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, an in- credibly smart businessman who knows how to organize things.

American Way: And the young guns who might make a move for the title - Tony Stewart (30), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (27), and rookie of the year Kevin Harvick (26) - all had multiple-race wins last season. What do you predict?