2000 Season Review
A Year to Marvel and Mourn
The inherent danger of the sport was very apparent in 2000 and overshadowed some impressive racing. The Winston Cup circuit, NHRA, and Craftsman Truck Series were all gripped by the tragic deaths of active drivers.
In a span of eight weeks the Winston Cup family had to deal with the deaths of 19-year-old Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin. Both deaths occurred during practice-run accidents in the same turn on the same track in New Hampshire. Top-fuel dragster Wayne Bailey, 47, was killed in a crash in Louisiana and Tony Roper, 35, a Craftsman Truck driver, died in an accident in Texas.
For the second straight year the defending Winston Cup Series champion won the Daytona 500. Dale Jarrett held off Jeff Burton and led five Ford cars across the finish line, capturing his third career checkered flag at Daytona.
Last year's runner-up in the points race, Bobby Labonte, who seemed to model himself after Jarrett's 1999 consistency, was the brightest of two stars on the Joe Gibbs racing team in 2000. Labonte (5130 points) secured the Winston Cup Series championship with a fourth-place finish at the Pennzoil 400 in Miami, and along with his brother Terry (who won series titles in 1984 and 1996) became the first siblings to win Winston Cup titles.
The other star on Joe Gibbs' team was 1999 Rookie of the Year Tony Stewart, who won a series-high six races. In the final point standings, Labonte was followed by seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt (4865) and Burton (4836). Roush Racing's Matt Kenseth, who had 10 top-10 finishes and won the Coca-Cola 600, held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. for rookie of the year honors.
On the CART circuit, Colombian sensation Juan Montoya won seven poles and three races but wasn't a factor in the battle for the Vanderbilt Cup. That distinction went to Brazil's Gil de Ferran who despite winning just two races this year captured his first series title in a close battle that had six drivers in contention heading into the final race of the season.
Montoya's victories were the final ones for him in his two-year CART career with Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. He will move to Formula One racing next season. Montoya and Michael Andretti provided the best finish of the year in a wild Michigan 500. The race featured 52 lead changes with Montoya eventually holding off Andretti by .04 seconds.
In Indy Racing League action, Montoya stole the spotlight from the IRL at the Indianapolis 500. In the series' biggest race Montoya became the first rookie to win the event since Graham Hill in 1966. Colorado's Buddy Lazier captured the Northern Light Cup, awarded to the IRL points leaders, after winning two races and finishing in the top-10 in all but two races. Rookie of the year honors went to 22-year-old Airton Dare from Brazil.
In Formula One action, Michael Schumacher ran away with the drivers' championship, winning the first title for Ferrari since 1979. The U.S. Grand Prix, held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the first F1 race held on U.S. soil in nine years. Schumacher won that too.
In NHRA action, Gary Scelzi won his third career Top Fuel championship and in the process set a new season record by winning nine titles. The most successful Top Fuel driver in history, John Force, was forced into retirement at the end of the season because of eye surgery. He won his 92nd career title this season and won his 10th career Funny Car season championship. And Jeg Coughlin Jr. held off Kurt Johnson to win the Pro Stock title.