Sunday, June 23, 2002

Thirty-somethings rule Winston Cup

New study shows they get the wins

        If you wonder why your NASCAR fantasy team isn't winning more races, maybe check your drivers' birth certificates.

        Dale Jarrett, 45, beat some imposing odds when he won the NASCAR Winston Cup race at Pocono two weeks ago.

        Drivers rarely win in Winston Cup after they turn 45, according to a recent analysis by the Charlotte Observer. According to the newspaper, only 3.4 percent of the races in the history of NASCAR's top series have been won by drivers 45 or older.

        The trend has continued this year:

        • Matt Kenseth (30) has three victories.

        • Sterling Marlin (44), Tony Stewart (31) and Jimmie Johnson (26) have two wins.

        • Mark Martin (43), Ward Burton (40), Bobby Labonte (38), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (27) and Kurt Busch (23) each have one win.

        • Jarrett (45) is the first elder statesman to win since Bill Elliott, who was 46 when he won at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.

        Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd and Terry Labonte all turned 45 in the past year. With talk of the “young guns” such as Kenseth, Stewart and Jimmie Johnson taking over NASCAR, the established names are trying to hang in.

        Michael Waltrip, who won the 2001 Daytona 500 at age 37, suggested it's easier for the young stars to rise quickly.

        “There are more opportunities for young guys now because of the sponsors,” Waltrip said, following a recent practice at Kentucky Speedway. “Whether it's Busch or Trucks, there are more places to break in now.”

        The Observer talked with Dr. Fritz Hagerman, an exercise physiologist at Ohio University who has conducted a number of performance studies on athletes. Hagerman said there are changes that happen to the body with age, notably a loss of muscle fiber starting at age 30.

        “The type you lose is the type a driver needs most . . . the fibers that are needed in reaction movement time,” Hagerman said.

        Hagerman said drivers can “postpone” the process by staying physically fit, but said muscles aren't the only factor involved in the process.

        Younger drivers tend to be more daring, as Darrell Waltrip observed during his final racing season in 2000. The three-time Winston Cup champion said he didn't race as hard into the corners as he once did.

        “I know I don't take as many chances as I did 15 years ago,” said Waltrip, age 53 at the time. “You try to temper some of that with reality.”

        The reality is drivers have won more Winston Cup races at age 30 (156) and 31 (169) than any other ages in the sport's history.

        It's therefore no stunner that Kenseth, 30, leads the pack with three wins in 2002. Or that Stewart, 31, has two wins.

        There's also this kid Jeff Gordon, 30, overdue for his first win of 2002.

        “These young guys are doing a terrific job,” Michael Waltrip said. “They also have some good teams behind them. I just think you have a lot of guys, a lot of age groups to follow. That's why our sport is so much fun.”

        LOCAL TRACKS: Florence Speedway has its regular shows June 29, July 6 and July 13, leading to its Sunoco Race Fuels Night on July 20. For information, visit or call 859-485-7591.

        • Edgewater Sports Park (Cleves) has High School Night on June 29, Big Trophy Night on July 6, and IDBA Motorcycle Day on July 7. For info, visit or call 513-353-4666.

        NHRA IN COLUMBUS: NHRA team owner and former driving legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme put two of his three drivers in the winner's circle last weekend at National Trail Raceway.

        Top Fuel points leader Larry Dixon and his Snake Racing Funny Car teammate, Ron Capps, both raced to victory at the 38th annual Pontiac Excitement NHRA Nationals. Joining them on the podium was Pro Stock winner Greg Anderson and Pro Stock Bike 2002 wins leader Craig Treble.

        The dragsters next visit St. Louis from Thursday through Sunday for the Sears Craftsman Nationals.

       E-mail Tom Groeschen at


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