DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 19, 2000) -- Three championships, 49 victories, nearly $27 million in winnings -- and Jeff Gordon isn't even 30 years old. As NASCAR 2000 explores the future of the sport, Gordon already has secured star status in the world of American sports. So, as some of NASCAR's veterans wind down their careers, who will step up? Who are the stars of tomorrow and from where will they come?
"It blows me away if I think about it," Gordon said of his success at such a young age. "I try not to think about it too often, because I want to keep it going. Things just clicked for us and everything seemed like perfect timing."This year, Gordon will be tested in new ways as longtime crew chief Ray Evernham and several members of his famed "Rainbow Warriors" crew have left to pursue other opportunities, leaving Gordon in the position of proving himself all over again.
"Nobody is inspired more by these changes than me," explained Gordon, 28. "Everyone always asked, 'Is is Ray or is it Jeff?', and I have always said it was the combination. I am looking forward to the challenge of winning races in 2000 and beyond."Gordon, however, isn't the only young gun in the NASCAR Winston Cup garage.
Tony Stewart, the 1999 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, crashed the NASCAR Winston Cup Series party with three victories and a top-five finish in points. Although Stewart, 28, said much of his first year in the series was spent learning basics like "finding the best restaurants and the best ways to get in and out of the tracks," he reminded everyone that young drivers certainly can make an impact.
"Tony Stewart was a rookie in NASCAR Winston Cup last year, but not a rookie racer," said Gordon, who drives the No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. "He has a special blend of talent and experience, and you tend to think drivers like him only come around every once in a while, but it is happening more and more often."As several drivers take the next steps in their racing careers in 2000, look for more 20-something drivers to find quality rides.
Kevin Harvick, 24, who will pilot the No. 2 ACDelco Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division this year, believes drivers like Gordon and Stewart have changed the way team owners and sponsors are looking at young drivers.
"There always has been a lot of capable drivers out here," said Harvick, 1998 NASCAR Winston West Series champion. "Gordon just showed everyone that drivers can be young and still do great things.
"The biggest thing for a young driver is not to take too many steps too fast," Harvick added. "That's when you will make a mistake and believe me, people will notice your mistakes much faster than they will your successes. This business can take you up and spit you out in a heartbeat, so you really have to stay focused."Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac, agrees.
"The best advice I can give someone just starting out in racing is to make logical steps," explained Stewart, who recently signed a contract extension with team owner Joe Gibbs through 2004. "As I moved through different levels of racing, I never moved any faster than I thought I could handle. I needed to prove I could win at every level before moving on."So, how hard is it to get noticed on the track?
NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division driver Jason Leffler, 24, says dedication is the key to success.
"You have to be serious about it if you want to be successful," said Leffler, driver of the No. 18 MBNA Pontiac. "You have to make it your life -- your whole life. You have to learn all aspects of racing. Learn about the car. Learn about the business. Learn about the people."
"When you are young, your friends are running around doing other things, so it is easy to get distracted," added Kevin Grubb, 21, driver of the Brewco Motorsports No. 37 Timber Wolf Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series. "You just have to make the decision to stick with it no matter what else is going on."Fourth-generation driver Adam Petty, who will compete in the NASCAR Busch Series, in 2000 in the No. 45 Sprint Chevrolet, says young drivers need to spend a lot of time in the car for several reasons.
"If you are in the car, you are not out getting in trouble," Petty said with the trademark ear-to-ear Petty smile. "And the more seat time you get, the better you are going to be. It's a lot like basketball, the more you shoot, the better you get."Petty, 19, is among several young drivers who will keep NASCAR growing into the new millennium with a healthy respect for the past. Names like Petty, Labonte, Jarrett, Hamilton and Earnhardt will be familiar for years to come, partnering a deep connection to NASCAR's rich racing heritage with an unbridled enthusiasm for the future.
"Racing has become so much more technical over the past few years, so it is hard to rely on the past when so much is changing every day," Petty added. "But even though technology changes, some things will never change. I grew up watching my father and my grandfather and I saw how they treated the fans. The fans mean everything to us."So, as NASCAR 2000 sneaks a peek at the future, where do the young drivers think the sport is going?
"As television and the Internet draw more attention to NASCAR, I think you will see more fans and younger, talented drivers," Gordon said. "I think you will see a lot of the owners who have money in football, basketball and baseball bringing their money to NASCAR.
"I also think that since we already have tracks with lights -- domed stadiums will be next," Gordon added. "In the future, weather won't be a factor."On the track, Gordon thinks NASCAR will welcome other manufacturers to the race for a championship.
"With Dodge coming back next year, who knows what will happen after that," Gordon said. "You may see a Cadillac on the track. We used to see Oldsmobiles and Buicks, and I think companies like Toyota and Honda have certainly shown a strong interest in motorsports."So, with all the new interest in NASCAR, the question remains -- Who are the champions of the future? Only time will tell.
NASCAR 2000 is a campaign exploring the future of stock car racing, examining new-millennium developments in technology, the evolution of facilities and the plans for increased fan interaction at the tracks and through television coverage. Driving the campaign is the vision of those closest to the action -- drivers, crew chiefs, owners, manufacturers, engineers, television personalities and artists. Copies of all NASCAR 2000 media releases and graphic support, including the NASCAR 2000 logo, are available for editorial use.
With three championships in only eight years of NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing, Jeff Gordon, 28, has secured a position among the racing elite before the age of 30. He and 1999 Rookie of the Year Tony Stewart, 28, lead a host of young drivers poised to take NASCAR into the new millennium, including:
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