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Coca-Cola 600: 5 drivers to watch

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2002


JEFF BURTON

JEFF BURTON

CAR: No. 99 Ford.

STARTING POSITION: Eighth.

BEST 600 FINISH: First (1999, 2001).

NOTES: Burton, the defending champion, probably wishes all of NASCAR's races were 600 miles. He has won two of the past three years and finished no worse than 11th in the past five. Ninth in the standings, he is bringing up the rear among the four Roush Racing teams, but it's not too late to get into the hunt.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.

CAR: No. 8 Chevrolet.

STARTING POSITION: Sixth.

BEST 600 FINISH: Fourth (2000).

NOTES: His car was fast enough to win last weekend at the Winston, but he chose not to wreck leader Ryan Newman to get the job done. The move showed class, but Junior, who caught Newman with three laps left, was upset for not having a move planned to get around the leader. You can bet he has one now.

JIMMIE JOHNSON

CAR: No. 48 Chevrolet.

STARTING POSITION: Pole.

BEST 600 FINISH: Debut.

NOTES: Johnson, who won his first Winston Cup race last month at California, easily drove away from the field to win the first two segments of the Winston. He has never driven a 600-mile race but no task seems too daunting for this super-rookie. It seems Johnson has found the do-no-wrong charm his co-owner, Jeff Gordon, lost.

RYAN NEWMAN

CAR: No. 2 Ford.

STARTING POSITION: Fourth.

BEST 600 FINISH: 43rd (2001).

NOTES: Newman was a surprise pole-sitter a year ago, when he ran five Cup races to prepare for his rookie season, but lost control and hit the wall while leading in the 11th lap. Oops. This year, he has made precious few rookie mistakes. The winner of the Winston has patience to go with that fast car.

TONY STEWART

CAR: No. 20 Pontiac.

STARTING POSITION: 10th.

BEST 600 FINISH: Third (2001).

NOTES: Stewart shelved his Indianapolis 500 dreams this year so as not to jeopardize his Winston Cup championship quest with the grueling 1,100-mile "double." He will want to make that commitment pay off. Also, Stewart is among five drivers eligible for a $1-million bonus if he wins. How much motivation does one man need?

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