© St. Petersburg Times, published February 14, 2003
A look at the teams competing in NASCAR's Winston Cup series this season:
No. 14 Dodge, LARRY FOYT -- A.J. Foyt, a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, overhauled his NASCAR team and put his 25-year-old son behind the wheel. . . . Larry Foyt spent past two seasons in the Busch Grand National series, posting two top-10 finishes in that time. . . . He'll compete for rookie of the year, but is a longshot for that title.
No. 74 Chevrolet, TONY RAINES -- A former BGN rookie of the year, the 38-year-old plans to run a full Winston Cup schedule and compete for top rookie. . . . Has no primary sponsor. . . . Also plans to run 10 BGN races.
No. 49 Dodge, KEN SCHRADER -- First season together. . . . Schrader finished 30th in points last season in a car fielded by MB2 Motorsports. . . . Was hired at the end of the year by Beth Ann Morgenthau, the only female car owner in Winston Cup. . . . BAM started last season with Shawna Robinson as driver and used five others to run only 17 races.
No. 54 Ford, TODD BODINE -- Bodine ran 24 races last season for Travis Carter. . . . Finished 38th in points. . . . Sam Belnavis, the first black owner in NASCAR, bought a majority interest in Carter's team last month, bringing sponsor Army National Guard to the financially troubled operation. . . . Belnavis will run the business side; Carter, a former crew chief, will run the competition.
No. 22 Dodge, WARD BURTON -- Burton won season-opening Daytona 500 last year, but everything went downhill from there, with nine DNFs. . . . Longtime crew chief Tommy Baldwin split with the team midway through the year. . . . Finished 25th in points. . . . Expected to turn it around under new crew chief Frank Stoddard and at least match his two wins last season.
No. 23 Dodge, KENNY WALLACE -- Wallace replaced Hut Stricklin last year, running 11 races. . . . Had two finishes of 13th or better in the last three races. . . . Not expected to be as strong as Burton's team, but has potential to put together solid runs.
No. 11 Ford, BRETT BODINE -- One of few owner-drivers left on the circuit. . . . Bodine finished 36th in points. . . . It's unclear how much sponsorship money he has, so a partial schedule of 20-25 races might be on the horizon.
No. 40 Dodge, STERLING MARLIN -- Marlin's career took off when Ganassi bought the team two years ago. . . . Could have won Daytona 500, but was penalized for climbing out of his car under a red flag and pulling on his fender. . . . Won two races last season and led the points for 25 consecutive weeks; he lost the lead, then was forced out of the car with a neck injury. . . . Missed final seven races and ended up 18th in points. . . . Now fully healed, should be a championship contender again.
No. 41 Dodge, CASEY MEARS -- A 24-year-old rookie with one year of stock car experience, in the BGN last season. . . . Has a rich racing heritage: His uncle Rick is a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and his father Roger is a former off-road racing star, and he is driving for one of the strongest organizations in Winston Cup. . . . Could run up front at times but also could have a long learning year.
No. 42 Dodge, JAMIE McMURRAY -- Another Ganassi rookie, McMurray, 26, is ahead of teammate Mears in experience with six Cup races last year as Marlin's injury replacement. . . . Set a NASCAR record by winning in his second career start and has shown enormous potential. . . . Should contend for rookie of the year and might win a race or two.
No. 1 Chevrolet, STEVE PARK -- Missed the first four races last year recovering from a head injury sustained late in the 2001 season. . . . Struggled through a long stretch to get back to the level he was at before the injury and was plagued by rumors his contract would not be renewed. . . . Put together decent runs near end of year, finished 33rd in points and got a one-year deal to stay with DEI. . . . In a make-or-break season this year with team.
No. 8 Chevrolet, DALE EARNHARDT JR. -- Won both races at Talladega but finished a disappointing 11th in points after being picked as a championship contender. . . . DEI didn't have a driver in the Top 10 in standings, and as the heir to the company, Junior is expected to challenge for the title every season. . . . Signed a five-year deal last month and should be the leader of the three-car team.
No. 15 Chevrolet, MICHAEL WALTRIP -- Won the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July, the second win of his Winston Cup career. . . . The other was the 2001 Daytona 500, his first race with DEI, when boss and friend Dale Earnhardt was killed in a wreck. . . . Finished 14th in points but was most consistent DEI driver all season. . . . Signed contract extension last year and stability should make this a strong team.
No. 9 Dodge, BILL ELLIOTT -- Won consecutive races in July and August, including the Brickyard 400 to give him wins in all of NASCAR's biggest events. . . . Finished 13th in points after struggling with consistency and mechanical failures at end of year. . . . The strength of former crew chief Ray Evernham's operation should be one of the best Dodge teams this year and could finish in the Top 10 in points.
No. 19 Dodge, JEREMY MAYFIELD -- Finished 26th in his first season with Evernham. . . . Struggled to find chemistry even after midseason crew chief change. . . . Crew was again shuffled in offseason, giving hope that the team can be as strong as Elliott's.
No. 0 Pontiac, JACK SPRAGUE -- Sprague, a three-time NASCAR Truck series champion is making the move to Winston Cup. . . . At 38, he'll compete for rookie of the year. . . . Could make it an interesting battle with Raines, another veteran running for rookie, and the M&M Boys from Ganassi.
No. 5 Chevrolet, TERRY LABONTE -- Two-time Winston Cup champion, finished 24th in points last season. . . . Hasn't won a race since 1999, but with consistency, could climb in the standings. . . . Has run in 24 Daytona 500s.
No. 24 Chevrolet, JEFF GORDON -- Coming off a year of personal turmoil and professional struggle in which the four-time Winston Cup champion finished fourth in points. . . . Won three races but didn't reach Victory Lane until August. . . . Always a contender for the title, is one of the few cars with a legitimate chance to win each week.
No. 25 Chevrolet, JOE NEMECHEK -- A midseason replacement for Jerry Nadeau. . . . Started to click with team at end of year and finished second in two of the final four races of the season. . . . Could be a consistent team this year and finally be as strong as a Hendrick car is supposed to be.
No. 48 Chevrolet, JIMMIE JOHNSON -- Won three races. . . . Became first Winston Cup rookie to lead points before finishing fifth. . . . Lost to Ryan Newman in a close battle for rookie of the year. . . . Could be a title contender or could go through a sophomore slump.
No. 77 Ford, DAVE BLANEY -- One of the few single-car teams, Blaney put together strong runs at times last year but finished 19th in points. . . . Was thought to be a candidate to drive for Ganassi but is still at Jasper with new crew chief Robert Barker and new key personnel.
No. 18 Chevrolet, BOBBY LABONTE -- Was 2000 Winston Cup champion. . . . Had a disappointing year and finished 16th in standings. . . . Had one victory, at Martinsville in April, his first short-track win. . . . Longtime crew chief Jimmy Makar moved up to team manager and Michael "Fatback" McSwain takes over as team tries to return to top form. . . . Switched from Pontiac.
No. 20 Chevrolet, TONY STEWART -- Defending Winston Cup champion. . . . Stewart could be a runaway winner if he eliminates off-track problems and on-track mishaps. . . . Had six DNFs last season, including the Daytona 500, when his engine blew on the second lap. . . . Known equally for his talent and his temper, has gone to anger management classes and cut back his extracurricular racing schedule in hope of a stress-free season. . . . Switched from Pontiac.
No. 01 Pontiac, JERRY NADEAU -- Gone from last year are the car number (36) and the driver (Schrader) as Nadeau signs on for his first season. . . . Filled in for teammate Johnny Benson last season when Benson was out with injury. . . . In a car sponsored by the U.S. Army, has a demanding role as spokesman and visited troops in Afghanistan over the winter.
No. 10 Pontiac, JOHNNY BENSON -- Won first race of his career in November at Rockingham and showed sings at the end of the year of being able to run near the front each week. . . . Missed five races with injuries and finished 29th in standings. . . . The top Pontiac team after the Gibbs defection.
No. 4 Pontiac, MIKE SKINNER -- Back for second season with Virginia-based single-car team. . . . Finished 31st in points last season with one Top-10 finish. . . . Was among the fastest cars at Daytona testing, so could be strong on superspeedways. . . . Changed from Chevrolet this year.
No. 2 Dodge, RUSTY WALLACE -- Failed to win last year, breaking his streak of 16 consecutive years with at least one victory. . . . Could have won at Bristol but was bumped out of the lead by Jeff Gordon with one lap to go. . . . Finished second to Elliott at the Brickyard, had 17 Top 10s and ended up seventh in points. . . . Switching from Ford this year while looking to break winless drought and match results of younger teammate.
No. 12 Dodge, RYAN NEWMAN -- The top rookie last season. . . . Newman won at New Hampshire and at The Winston, had 22 Top 10s, had a rookie record six poles and finished sixth in points. . . . Expected to be one of the top Dodge teams this year, Newman could also contend for the Winston Cup title.
No. 43 Dodge, JOHN ANDRETTI -- Finished 28th in points last year with one Top-10 finish. . . . Went back and forth most of the year over a contract extension, finally agreeing to a new deal in December. . . . Likely will try to run the Indianapolis 500 this year, which team owner Kyle Petty wouldn't allow him to do last year.
No. 45 Dodge, KYLE PETTY -- Was most improved of the Petty organization last year, though the family-owned business still lags behind most top teams. . . . Was 22nd in points, is not ready to give up racing to run the company full time. . . . Is also trying to field a third car for CART star Christian Fittipaldi but doesn't have sponsorship yet to commit to any events.
No. 32 Pontiac, RICKY CRAVEN -- One of the best single-car teams. . . . Considered expanding to two cars but stuck with Craven in its only entry. . . . Moved from Ford to Pontiac and should get substantial factory support, enough to contend for wins and improve on 15th in points.
No. 37 Dodge, DERRIKE COPE -- The 1990 Daytona 500 winner. . . . Cope is trying to run a full schedule with Friendly's as sponsor. . . . Ran in seven races last year, spending much of the season as a broadcaster. . . . Was seriously injured in September in a BGN race at Richmond.
No. 29 Chevrolet, KEVIN HARVICK -- Went through a sophomore slump last season and missed the spring race at Martinsville when NASCAR parked him for rough driving. . . . Successfully defended his win at Chicago, had eight Top 10s and ended up 21st in points. . . . The strength of RCR should click with crew he was given midway through the year in a shake-up.
No. 30 Chevrolet, JEFF GREEN -- The most consistent of the three RCR cars last season. . . . Finished 17th in points. . . . Had four top-five finishes. . . . Has new crew chief in Mike Beam.
No. 31 Chevrolet, ROBBY GORDON -- Finished 20th in points and had five top-five finishes. . . . Had a few clashes with competitors during the season. . . . Showed on-track progress and benefited greatly when he got Harvick's crew in midseason shake-up.
No. 38 Ford, ELLIOTT SADLER -- Sadler replaces Ricky Rudd and the car number changes from No. 28 with a new sponsor, M&M's. . . . Sadler, one of the more colorful characters in NASCAR, has one career win and will have to show production with one of the top teams in racing. . . . Finished 23rd in points last year with the Wood Brothers.
No. 88 Ford, DALE JARRETT -- The 1999 Winston Cup champion. . . . Jarrett gets a new crew chief this year in Brad Parrott, who takes over for brother, Todd, who moved to team manager. . . . Finished ninth in points last year with two wins and 18 Top 10s. . . . One of the strongest teams every week.
No. 6 Ford, MARK MARTIN -- Finished second in points for fourth time but never has won a title. . . . Won Coca-Cola 600 and had 22 Top 10s. . . . Lost championship by 38 points and was docked 25 before the finale for an illegal part two weeks before. . . . Owner Jack Roush appealed but lost and the process took attention away from Martin's superb season. . . . Should be strong again but not likely to be strongest Roush car.
No. 16 Ford, GREG BIFFLE -- Biffle gave Roush his first NASCAR championship last season by winning the BGN title. . . . Most logical pick to win rookie of the year but quiet demeanor and wealth of talent at Roush Racing gets him lost in the shuffle.
No. 17 Ford, MATT KENSETH -- Won a series-high five races last year but inconsistency and mechanical failures cost him. . . . Finished eighth in points. . . . Expected to contend for the championship.
No. 97 Ford, KURT BUSCH -- The hottest driver at the end of the year, he won three of the final five races and four overall. . . . A brash young driver, he proved how aggressive he is by clashing with veteran Jimmy Spencer and at least three trips to the NASCAR hauler for disciplinary reasons. . . . Could challenge for the title and battle Kenseth for top honors at Roush.
No. 99, JEFF BURTON -- The only Roush driver who didn't win last season. . . . Finished 12th in points in a year he was expected to compete for the title. . . . Crew chief Frank Stoddard is gone, replaced by Paul Andrews. Team is expected to bounce back and run for wins.
No. 7 Dodge, JIMMY SPENCER -- Everything is new, with Ray Evernham out as partial owner and Spencer replacing Casey Atwood as driver. . . . Spencer finished 27th in points last year driving for Ganassi, never recovering from missing the Daytona 500. . . . Was fired in November and caught on with car owner Jim Smith. . . . Tommy Baldwin is crew chief.
No. 21 Ford, RICKY RUDD -- The Virginia-based team, one of the oldest in NASCAR, hopes Rudd can bring it back to prominence. . . . Rudd, coming off a bizarre year of off-track distractions with Yates, finished 10th in standings and won one race. . . . A change of scenery will do him good. . . . No. 21 should be back among the leaders at end of year.