The Winner Is...
Our rundown on the best and worst of the racing world this season
Now that Nascar's arduous nine-month Winston Cup Series has concluded-it began on Feb. 14 and ended on Sunday-it's time to consider the high and low points of an eventful year in motor sports. Hence, we present SI's year-end awards, in which we try to make sense of the best and worst performances on all the major racing circuits. From profound accomplishments to dubious distinctions, from true excellence to pretty bad behavior, we've tried to give credit (and blame) everywhere it's due.
Driver of the Year
Although Formula One champion Mika Hakkinen and CART champ Juan Pablo Montoya had outstanding seasons, NASCAR's Dale Jarrett gets the nod. Jarrett won his first Winston Cup title at the twilight age of 42 after 15 hard-knock years on the tour, during which he never complained or sulked in the face of criticism and doubt from the public and the media.
Todd Parrott, Jarrett's crew chief, prepped the team's Tauruses so well that none had a major mechanical failure all season.
Rookie of the Year
This one is a toss-up between CART's Montoya and NASCAR's Tony Stewart. Montoya, 24, won seven races while becoming only the second rookie ever to win a CART championship. ( Nigel Mansell did it in 1993, at age 40, after a distinguished career on the F/1 circuit.) Stewart, 28, won three races in the fender-bending Winston Cup series, the most ever by a rookie.
CART team owner Chip Ganassi, who earned a fourth consecutive CART championship. Ganassi won with Jimmy Vasser in '96, with Alex Zanardi in '97 and '98, and with Montoya this season.
Sore Loser Award
Goodyear, for ceasing to manufacture tires for CART and the IRL, effective next season, after getting trounced by Firestone in '99.
Most Underrated Performance
Jeff Gordon, who failed to add a third straight championship to his r�sum� but still led all NASCAR drivers with seven victories this year and earned $5.3 million.
Nero Golden Fiddle
Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George, for rejecting CART's every overture for reconciliation while open-wheel racing is falling apart around him, besieged by declining attendance and poor TV ratings.
Formula One's governing body, which ruled after the Oct. 17 Malaysian Grand Prix that Eddie Irvine's Ferrari was illegal-in effect allowing Hakkinen to clinch his second world title-only to declare the Ferrari legal upon appeal, putting Irvine back atop the points standings as F/l prepared for the season-ending Grand Prix of Japan on Oct. 31.