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Monster skirmish awaiting rookies

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 20, 2002

DOVER, Del. -- Jimmie Johnson needs to start outdriving Ryan Newman if he hopes to become rookie of the year. If not, Johnson might have to settle for the Winston Cup championship.

Since the scoring criteria are different for each award, Newman leads Johnson in the rookie race as the circuit moves to Dover International Speedway for Sunday's All-American Heroes 400. But Newman, coming off his first career win, in the New Hampshire 300, is in eighth place in the overall standings. Johnson is third, 40 points behind leader Mark Martin.

"I think winning the championship would work out okay," Johnson said. "But it's amazing. You could end up the champion but not the rookie of the year."

Dover could prove pivotal for both, with Johnson hoping for a sweep of this year's races on the Monster Mile. He led the most laps in June and made the MBNA Platinum 400 his second career victory.

So, this is Johnson's race? Not so fast.

Virtually unnoticed here three months ago was Newman's fourth-place finish. It was an incredible showing because he crashed his primary car, went to a backup and started 38th in a field of 43 on a track where passing is difficult.

"I was trying too hard in qualifying," Newman said. "I hated that I wrecked a car that has been so good for us, but the backup performed just as well. Luckily, we still had two practice sessions to work on it."

In the race, outstanding pit strategy helped move Newman toward the front. Johnson wound up third the next weekend in the Pocono 500, but Newman has had better finishes in nine of 13 races since. His victory in New Hampshire moved him from 10th to eighth, and he's 192 points back with nine races left.

Johnson hasn't performed badly down the stretch, and he has six top-10 finishes in the last 11 races. But he hasn't been able to match his run of 10 in 12 races early in the season.

"It's just hard to be in a race-winning mode all year long," Johnson said. "If somebody had been able to do it, (Newman) would have run away with the championship. We're in the middle of a six-car battle for the championship because nobody has been able to put together a 10-race stretch with a lot of victories and really collect a lot of points."

Fisher will be first woman to drive in F1 in 10 years

WOKING, England -- Sarah Fisher will become the first woman in 10 years to drive a Formula One car during a demonstration run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week.

Fisher will drive a McLaren Mercedes car Sept. 27, the first day of practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The 21-year-old Fisher, the only female driver in the Indy Racing League, became the first woman to start from the pole in any major racing series this season at Kentucky.

Fisher, who also drove in the Indianapolis 500, visited the McLaren headquarters Wednesday for a seat fitting. She will drive the McLaren MP4-17 car, which the team takes to every race as a backup for drivers David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen.

"I'm obviously very excited about driving a Formula One car in front of my home crowd," Fisher said. "It's extremely rare to get a chance like this and I can't wait. Hopefully it will help to promote Formula One in the USA and will also bring international attention to my series as well."

"Through our 39-year history we have never had a female drive one of our Formula One cars, so I guess it's about time," said Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren International's managing director.

Fisher will be the first woman at the wheel of an F1 car since Italy's Giovanna Amati in 1992. Amati drove for Brabham but failed to qualify for a race.

FUTURE IN FORMULA ONE: Most people would expect an Alabama high school senior pursuing professional racing to dream of following Jeff Gordon or Bill Elliott into NASCAR.

Not Cliff White.

The 17-year-old says Michael Andretti and Michael Schumacher are his favorite drivers and that his goal is to compete in Formula One.

White will take an important step toward a pro career when he tries for a national title this weekend in the SCCA Valvoline Runoffs at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.

The Runoffs are the national championships for amateur road racing, with approximately 700 drivers and cars competing in 24 classes, from open-wheel formula machines to production and sports cars.

"CART and Formula One are my favorite types of racing. Michael Schumacher or Michael Andretti would be my favorite, just because I've followed them since I started racing," White said. "I would have an interest in stock cars if the opportunity presented itself."

END OF AN ERA: The Wisconsin State Fair grounds grandstand from which fans watched almost seven decades of races was reduced to rubble by explosives that toppled its roof. The building's demolition made way for a $20.5-million steel and aluminum, 18,000-seat replacement scheduled to open in June.

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