You might think the pressure on the three drivers involved in the Winston Cup championship race would be oppressive.
There's a $1.5-million payoff from series sponsor R.J. Reynolds, as well as the prestige and moneymaking opportunities of being the champion.
But leader Jeff Gordon, runner-up Mark Martin and third-place Dale Jarrett appeared relaxed as they prepared for the penultimate race of the season, the Dura-Lube 500 today at Phoenix International Raceway.
"This is a whole lot of fun to me. You don't want to be 14th or 15th and haven't won a race," Jarrett said. "That's pressure."
Martin said Gordon has been fortunate the past two races after igniting a 21-car crash with a deflated tire at Talladega, then having to make an extra pit stop at Rockingham to repair a hub problem.
Gordon, who leads Martin by 125 points, can wrap up his second title in three years by finishing 13th or better in each of the last two races, no matter what the other two do. Gordon can clinch the title today if he gains 26 or more points on Martin and comes away with at least a 151-point lead.
All Gordon would have to do in two weeks at Atlanta Motor Speedway is start the final race.
NASCAR added Ricky Craven to the lineup with the fifth provisional spot.
CRAFTSMAN TRUCK: Joe Ruttman, leading the final 56 laps, won the GM Goodwrench-Delco Battery 300K at Phoenix. Ruttman beat Roush Racing teammate Chuck Bown by 0.419 seconds. He averaged 103.942 mph, breaking the track mark of 103.053 set in April by Jack Sprague.
JAPAN TRACK PASSES TEST: Indy-car drivers tested Japan's new Twin Ring Motegi track and were pleased. "It's fast and it's safe," Al Unser Jr. said. The track, built by Honda Motors at a cost of $380-million, will host the first Indy-car race in Asia on March 28.