Welcome to Bobfoolery, a time when the Stock Report column is a bigger loser than the Stock Market.
Most readers don't know or care that Bobfoolery is an annual attempt to predict the NASCAR Winston Cup champion and the attendant 19 in the point standings. In fact, our word processor program underlines "Bobfoolery" in red, indicating it isn't even a real word.
Before the folly and with a straight face, let's drop the checkered flag on 2002 with superlatives. Such honors, while belated, are not authentic without Bobfoolery's official stamp of approval.
Driver of the Year (Winston Cup and National): Champion Tony Stewart. There's no question about his ability to drive a race car, and we aren't on the motorsports panel that picked CART's Christiano da Matta as National Driver of the Year.
Crew Chief: Greg Zipadelli. He kept his team focused and motivated amid off-track distractions and turmoil.
Team: The Joe Gibbs Racing/ Home Depot No. 20 Pontiac. When the going got tough, the tough got going.
Car Owner: Jack Roush. With due respect to Joe Gibbs, Roush's four teams logged 10 wins, and three of those teams ranked second, third, and eighth in points.
Engine Builder: Mark Cronquist from Joe Gibbs Racing, for the second time in three years.
Manufacturer: Ford Motor Co. won its third factory trophy in 4 years with 14 wins (compared to 10 by Chevrolet) and had 7 drivers in the Top 10 in points.
Story of the Year: Jack Roush's plane crash and life-saving rescue by ex-Marine Larry Hicks. Runner-up: Stewart's up-and-down season, on and off the track.
Person of the Year: Kyle Petty, whose Victory Junction dream for chronically ill kids is near reality.
NASCAR Official: Jim Hunter. The director of communications helped bridge the gap between NASCAR and the press.
Race: Food City 500, Bristol. Kurt Busch bumped and ran by Jimmy Spencer for his first Winston Cup victory.
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway for its "soft" wall SAFER energy-absorbing barrier, introduced to stock cars at the Brickyard 400.
Best Comeback: Kurt Busch. The Roush No. 97 Ford driver vaulted from 27th in points in 2001 to 3rd, winning three of the last five races.
Best Newcomer (tie): Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson. Newman earned top rookie honors on the strength of 14 Top-5 finishes, but Johnson won three races, tying the record for most race won by a rookie, and was fifth in points, one notch above Newman.
Shocker: Jamie McMurray's incredible victory at Charlotte in his second Winston Cup start.
Dramatic Moment: Teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Park walk away arm-in-arm from the crash of their cars at Pocono.
Touching Moment: Johnny Benson's emotional first Winston Cup victory, at Rockingham, in his 226th start.
Magic Moments: Johnson, Newman, and McMurray also won for the first time.
Oddity: The steering locked on Mark Martin's Ford and collected Johnson's Chevrolet on the parade lap at Talladega. Runner-up: Sterling Marlin's no-no "repairs" to his car under red flag conditions at the Daytona 500.
In Memoriam: Buck Baker, Charlie Harville, Dan Lohwasser II.
Quotes: "I practically destroyed this team by midseason, single-handedly, and Zippy was the glue that held everybody together. Zippy was the friend that got me back on track and got my mindset right to do what we did the rest of the year."-Tony Stewart on crew chief Greg Zipadelli.
"Nobody has been able to make that many cars run that good."- Champion car owner Joe Gibbs complimenting Jack Roush on his teams' great year.
"I dropped right in on Larry Hicks. ... How can that be ... ?"-Jack Roush, on his plane crash.
"Holy cow!"-Jamie McMurray at Charlotte after his first Winston Cup victory.
"I've got some really good words for him I can't say."-Ward Burton after his car was kayoed in a collision with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Bristol.