It didn't take Stewart long to make fans realize just how talented he really is. He started on the front row of the Daytona 500 at his very first Winston Cup race. He would go on to run up front and contend for victory nearly every weekend, and he won three races in his rookie season to break the record set by Davey Allison, who won two as a rookie in 1987. Stewart also finished a stunning fourth in the Winston Cup standings. Could a championship in 2000 be next?
"I'm not even worrying about the title right now," Stewart says. "The team is capable. We had a lot of luck this year and had a good string when we didn't have any problems. You never know what this year may bring. We may get in a lot of wrecks.
"I'm not going out at the beginning of the year thinking I'm running for a championship. I'm going out to run the best I can each week, and if it comes down to that at the end of the year, great. I'm concentrating on one race at a time."
Stewart did well on all types of racetracks in his rookie season. The driver of The Home Depot Pontiac, owned by former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, was part of the top two-car team in Winston Cup racing last year. 1999 Final Standing: 4th Place
Jeff BurtonAfter Burton led the Winston Cup point standings for much of the early season, inconsistency kept him from contending for the Winston Cup title. But only Jeff Gordon won more races than Burton in 1999, and Burton is ready to contend for the championship in 2000.
"We lacked the consistency we needed to contend for the title," Burton says. "Going into 2000, we have a really clear picture that you can't have bad races. Bad finishes really hurt us a lot in the points. Trying to prevent those bad finishes is what we've got to do. That's hard to do. Knowing what you need to do and knowing how to do it are two different things. We have to run as well as we did in 1999, and we have to run even better than in the second half of the season, but we can't afford those poor finishes.
"What we have learned is speed didn't win out. You have to win races, you have to run up front, you have to earn those bonus points, and the bad finishes kill you." 1999 Final Standing: 5th Place
Jeff GordonTalk about expectations. Gordon won seven races and seven poles and finished in the top five in 1999, yet he's coming off the most disappointing season of his career. That's the position in which Gordon found himself after winning 13 races and his third Winston Cup title in four years in 1998.
After spending his entire Winston Cup career with Ray Evernham as his crew chief and mentor, Gordon will be the first to admit his team had become stale. Evernham's departure to head Dodge's return to Winston Cup racing in 2001 has given Gordon a new challenge. In October, he responded by winning his first two races with Brian Whitesell as his crew chief. More turmoil was ahead when his Rainbow Warriors' pit crew left en masse to join Robert Yates Racing, where it will serve as Dale Jarrett's pit crew in 2000.
Gordon looks at the new season as a challenge. After all, the 28-year-old driver had made his stunning success look much too easy. "My goal is to get that Winston Cup title back," Gordon says. "We have a lot of things we are looking forward to. We have a new Monte Carlo, and that will get us closer to the Pontiacs and the Fords. We're excited about that. We have a lot of things in the works."
Gordon admits his attitude has been rejuvenated because he is building a team back up rather than maintaining one that had already achieved excellence. "Every once in a while, you need these sparks and these things that keep you motivated," Gordon says. "I always like to say I'm always motivated, and when I'm in the car behind the wheel, I am. But there are a lot of distractions and things that are out there that take your focus away. I think right now this is going to allow me to put 90 percent of my focus back into the team.