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The season was marred by a two-car collision at the end of the season-opening Daytona 500, which claimed the life of seven-time Series champion Dale Earnhardt. The accident resulted in safety upgrades being instituted. It also was the first year to have a unified television contract with Fox Sports, NBC Sports, and Turner Sports broadcasting the season's races; previous seasons saw each racetrack negotiate their own TV coverage, creating a patchwork of broadcast companies covering races throughout the season. Dodge returned to the sport for the first time since 1985. Chevrolet captured the NASCAR Manufacturers' Championship with 16 wins and 248 points.
This was the first race that featured cars from Chrysler Motors (in this case, the Dodge manufacturing family) since 1985.
50th career pole for Bill Elliott. This was Elliott's fourth Daytona 500 pole in his career, and the first time driving a Dodge. This was Elliott's first pole since Richmond back in September 1997. As of 2018, Bill Elliott is the only driver to score his 50th career pole in the Daytona 500.
Michael Waltrip won his first career points race in his 463rd career start, the longest drought of any driver in NASCAR history before getting their first win.
Stacy Compton, the outside pole-sitter, scored his only Top 10 finish in his career in this race.
This race was won by DEI driver Steve Park in an emotional victory just one week after Earnhardt's death. It was his last career victory to date.
Following the death of Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR on FOX, and later on in the season, NASCAR on NBC and TNT, would pay tribute to Dale Earnhardt with a silent lap 3. Unfortunately however, in this race, along with the next 2 races, the caution would come out either on or before the 3rd lap.
After this race, Rusty Wallace would take over the points lead, making this the 1st time since 1998 that he has done so. This would be the only race of 2001 that Rusty would leave an event as the points leader. Final time in his career as well that Rusty Wallace would lead the points.
Richard Childress placed Busch Grand National driver Kevin Harvick into the car formerly driven by Earnhardt, changed the car's number from No. 3 to No. 29 and the paint scheme from primarily black to primarily white. Because of that, the race was Harvick's first start in the Winston Cup Series.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a crash on the first lap of the race, in which his car hit the outside wall in an eerily similar fashion to his father's fatal crash a week earlier, but Earnhardt Jr. was not seriously injured.
This race is best remembered for the exciting finish between rookie Kevin Harvick and three-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon. Harvick would outduel the champion in a spectacular finish, winning by only .006 seconds, being the second closest finish in NASCAR history at the time. Harvick performed a burnout on the frontstretch with three fingers aloft. It was his first victory in only his third start in the Winston Cup Series, a then-record for fewest starts to first win in the Modern Era of Cup racing.
It was also the first time cars No. 21 and No. 43 took the top two finishing positions since 1977, but the first time since the 1976 Southern 500 that the No. 21 finished on top when David Pearson beat Richard Petty. As of 2016 it is the most recent time those two cars have finished in the top two spots.
This was the second caution-free race in the history of Talladega Superspeedway, but the aerodynamics package was vastly different than the first caution-free race, which in turn made the average speed (184.003 mph) slower than the track record.
Stacy Compton won his first Winston Cup Series pole for this race.
This race was held on what would have been Dale Earnhardt's 50th birthday, and his friend and great adversary Rusty Wallace won an emotional race.
The race marked the 54th career win for Rusty Wallace. With this win, Wallace tied Lee Petty for seventh on NASCAR's all-time win list.
This was also Wallace's 16th straight season of winning at least one race (1986-2001). The streak would end after 2001, as Wallace did not return to Victory Lane until Martinsville in April 2004, 3 years and 106 races later.
Tony Stewart successfully performed the "Double Duty", also running the Indianapolis 500 the same day; Joe Gibbs Racing had Mike McLaughlin on standby if Stewart did not arrive on time. Stewart arrived less than half an hour before the start of the race. If Stewart did not arrive for the start of the Coca-Cola 600, McLaughlin would have been given credit for the start under NASCAR rules. Stewart had to start at the end of the field (43rd place) due to missing the mandatory drivers' meeting that is held 2 hours before any race. Stewart is also the only driver in history to finish in the top 10 and on the lead lap in both races. He finished sixth in the Indianapolis 500, and finished third in this race.
Dale Jarrett overcame a rib injury during qualifying to finish 8th. As a precaution, Jeff Green was on standby.
Even though Ryan Newman won the pole, he finished 43rd after crashing while leading on lap 10.
This was also the first Cup Series race on NBC under the 2001-2006 contract.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s win, coupled with Michael Waltrip pushing him to the victory (the reverse of the finish in Daytona 500) made for an emotional moment. Earnhardt Jr, Waltrip, and their crews, as well as Chocolate Myers, a longtime crew member for Dale Earnhardt Sr., all celebrated in the infield grass on the frontstretch. Earnhardt Jr. and Waltrip shared a hug on top of Waltrip's No. 15 car (Earnhardt Sr. used to celebrate by standing on his roof).
This was the second straight season that a pair of drivers finished first and second in both Daytona races, but in the opposite positions (Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton in 2000, when Jarrett won the Daytona 500, and Jeff Burton won the Pepsi 400, with both finishing in second to each other).
Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon were tied for the points lead for the 2nd consecutive week.
This was the first Winston Cup Series race on TNT under the 2001-2006 contract. Although the initial plans were for TBS Superstation to carry the races. Instead, Turner decided that NASCAR would better fit TNT's "We Know Drama" slogan.
Many came from the back to the front for finishing. Jeff Gordon started 27th, Johnny Benson started 26th, Rusty Wallace started 37th, Kurt Busch started 34th, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. started 36th.
The last 4 straight years (1998-2001), the point leader coming into this race went on to win the Brickyard 400, and then later on in the year, that driver went on to win the NASCAR Winston Cup Championship. Jeff Gordon accomplished the feat twice, the first year in 1998, and the fourth year in 2001. Dale Jarrett did it in 1999, and Bobby Labonte did it in 2000.
This was Jeff Gordon's 4th Watkins Glen win in the last 5 events. This would also be Gordon's final win at The Glen.
Jeff Gordon won his seventh career road course race. With this win, Gordon became the all time NASCAR winner on road courses, breaking out of a 3-way tie with Bobby Allison and Rusty Wallace. Gordon would win an additional 2 more road course races before he retired in 2015, both at Sonoma in 2004 & 2006. As of 2019, Gordon's all-time record still stands with a total of 9 road course wins. Tony Stewart is currently in 2nd with 8
Boris Said was the top-finishing non-regular series driver (road course ringer, as he finished 8th after running as high as third; it was Said's career-best finish at the time, in the #77 Jasper Motorsports Ford.
In 6 of the last 7 years including 2001 (1995-1999, 2001), Jeff Gordon won the most races in a season. 2001 was also the final season in his career that he won the most races in a season.
This was Jeff Gordon's third win at an inaugural event. He won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, and the inaugural race at Auto Club Speedway of California in 1997.
This was the last race for Jeremy Mayfield in the 12 car for Roger Penske. Rusty Wallace's younger brother Mike Wallace would be Rusty's new teammate as he replaced Mayfield for the rest of the season.
Four of the six drivers that failed to qualify were each from two major teams. Two of the six drivers were from Richard Childress Racing (Jeff Green (30) and Robby Gordon (31)), and the other two of the six drivers were from Petty Enterprises (Kyle Petty (45) and Buckshot Jones (44)).
This was Ricky Craven's first career Winston Cup Series victory. It was also the first for a car with the number 32.
Kevin Harvick was in contention late in the event until he spun out Bobby Hamilton and NASCAR penalized him one lap for rough driving.
EA Sports 500
The EA Sports 500 was held on October 21 at Talladega Superspeedway. Stacy Compton won the pole. This race would be remembered for the last lap. After Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Bobby Labonte for the lead, Labonte tried to block Bobby Hamilton, going up high in turn two. Labonte got loose, making contact with Johnny Benson, causing Labonte to flip over and slide down the back straightaway on his roof, with an additional 14 cars being collected in the wreck. While that happened, Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton raced back to the start/finish line. Entering the tri-oval, Earnhardt Jr. sailed away by three car lengths to take his third win of the season while Stewart and Burton battled for the runner-up spot.
Although he kept the win, Earnhardt Jr. was docked 25 points after his car failed post race inspection, due to a shortened rear spoiler.
The race marked Andy Petree's second and final career win as a car owner.
This was the second consecutive second-place finish for two Wallace brothers (who are related to Rusty, the dominant brother of the three) that have never won a Winston Cup points race (Mike finished 2nd a week prior at Phoenix, and Kenny finishes 2nd in this race).
It was the 41st career Winston Cup Series win for Bill Elliott. This was Elliott's first win in 226 races, dating back to his last win in the Southern 500 at Darlington in 1994. As of 2018, the 226 race winless streak is the longest drought in NASCAR history.
This was the first race since Richmond back in March 1992 that Bill Elliott won from the pole.
This would be first time since Melling Racing and Bill Elliott himself at the Pepsi 400 in 1991, that the No. 9 went to victory lane.
The race marked the only top-five finish of Casey Atwood's career.
A pit road incident occurred on lap 112 when Ward Burton and Casey Atwood made contact, causing Ward to go into Ricky Rudd's pit stall, Seriously injuring 2 Crew Members.
The NAPA 500 was held November 18 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race was scheduled to be the finale to the 2001 season, but as the fall race in New Hampshire had been postponed due to the attacks of September 11, it became the penultimate race instead. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole. Jeff Gordon clinched the 2001 Winston Cup championship with his sixth-place finish. Jerry Nadeau nearly won this race, but ran out of gas with half a lap to go, giving way to Bobby Labonte.
Jeff Gordon clinches the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Championship, joining Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt to win four or more NASCAR Winston Cup Championships. He won the title with having 6 wins, 18 top 5s, and 24 top 10s. His six wins is the fewest victories in any of his four championship winning seasons.
This was the fourth straight season that a driver clinched the NASCAR Winston Cup Championship with one race to go. Jeff Gordon accomplished the feat twice in those four seasons, the first year in 1998, and the fourth year in 2001. Dale Jarrett did it in 1999, and Bobby Labonte did it in 2000.
The win was Robby Gordon's first career victory in the Cup Series and one of only 17 times he raced in 2001 due to having been unexpectedly fired from the Morgan-McClure team after just 5 races. This race was also notable for the battle between Robby and Jeff Gordon (no relation) that led to much bumping between the two and resulting in Jeff Gordon spinning out of the lead, causing the final caution. Jeff was black-flagged for retaliating and after being held a lap by officials, he ended up in 15th place. Robby Gordon held off Sterling Marlin for the win. It would be the No. 31 team's very first win in NASCAR and his second oval win in his motorsports career (his first coming in an Indy Car race at Phoenix in 1995).
In victory lane Robby, when asked about the incident with Jeff, said that it was an accident and that he was not embarrassed about his win since he saw Jeff Gordon do something similar to win at a previous race. Robby also donated all his prize money to the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
42 cars were entered for this race instead of the traditional 43, as the Eel River Racing Team had folded. This was the last race to feature less than 43 cars until the 2014 Kentucky race. Beginning with the 2016 Sprint Cup season, fields are now a max of 40 cars.
Robby Gordon became the 5th driver in 2001 to win his 1st ever Winston Cup race, a modern-era record (this record would later be matched in 2011). He also became the 19th different driver to win a race in 2001, another modern-era record.
As of 2020, Robby Gordon would become the 2nd driver in NASCAR to win a race after failing to qualify the previous week (Dale Jarrett was the 1st in 1994 when he failed to qualify at North Wilkesboro, and then won the following race at Charlotte).
Kevin Harvick emerged as the victor of the Rookie of the Year battle despite not declaring for the award until the second race of the season, as he took over for Dale Earnhardt following his fatal crash. Harvick won 2 races and finished 9th in points. Kurt Busch finished 2nd, despite only having one year of experience in a major NASCAR series. 3rd-place finisher Casey Atwood was pre-season favorite, but was held back due to a rough start and only finished 26th in points. Jason Leffler had a sub-par season that cost him his job with Chip Ganassi Racing, and Ron Hornaday Jr. was a disappointment after years of success in the Busch and Truck series. The last-place driver was Andy Houston, another pre-season favorite who had a tough season, suffering from several DNQs and DNFs that resulted in his team closing after the Kansas race.
This was the first season under the new television deal with Fox Sports and NBC Sports/Turner Sports. Fox broadcast the season-opening Daytona 500 for the first time and split coverage of the first half of the season with cable partner FX. NBC broadcast the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July and split-second half the coverage of the season with TNT.
There were 19 different race winners, a new record for the series.
There were six first-time pole sitters in the 2001 Winston Cup season: Stacy Compton, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Jason Leffler, Casey Atwood and Jeff Green. Up until Atwood's lead lap finish at Phoenix, the best finish for a first-time pole sitter was Leffler, when he finished 32nd at Kansas. He was on the lead lap with nine to go there, only to wreck. Compton finished 43rd at Talladega, as did Newman at Charlotte. Busch came in 42nd after a crash at Darlington, and Green came in 39th after one in Bristol.
The 2001 season marked the second full-time Winston Cup season that Mark Martin failed to win a race. His first winless season was in 1996. Martin finished 12th in the final points standings, making this the first time since 1988 that he didn't finish in the Top 10 in points, ending a streak of 12 consecutive seasons.
Jeff Gordon won his fourth Winston Cup Championship, a feat that only two other drivers - Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt - had accomplished at the time. This was the final championship for Gordon.
As the 2001 season came to an end, Jeff Gordon's winning average was 20 percent, winning 1 race in every 5 starts. After 2001, he recorded 58 victories in 293 races.
No rookies competed in all 36 races during this year; the closest were Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Casey Atwood with 35. Harvick did not compete in the Daytona 500, Atwood did not qualify for the spring Atlanta race, and Busch failed to qualify for the fall race in Atlanta.
This was supposed to be the last season finale to be held at Atlanta. However, due to the September 11 attacks, the fall New Hampshire race was postponed until the first available date, which came after the Atlanta event.
2001 was the last full-time Winston Cup season for Ron Hornaday Jr.; Buckshot Jones, Andy Houston, and Jason Leffler. Hornaday Jr. went to the Busch Grand National Series in 2002 then back to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2005. Jones was fired after a few races that same year due to poor finishes. Houston went back to the Trucks Series and currently serves as the spotter for Austin Dillon. Leffler attempted to have a full-time ride with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2005 but was fired halfway into the season. He went back into Grand National from 2006 to 2011 then the Trucks for 2012. After being unemployed in 2013, he died in a sprint car racing accident.
Future champion Jimmie Johnson made his NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut for Hendrick Motorsports at the fall race in Charlotte. He would make two more starts during the 2001 season before driving full-time in 2002.