2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Recap

In many ways the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup season was a season of change. Before the racing season even began, an announcement by R.J. Reynolds began a series of shifting sponsors that would continue throughout the year and take full effect in 2004. Planned changes in rules and race scheduling also promised that 2003 would be the last NASCAR season of its kind.

NASCAR Chairman Bill France, Jr. also stepped down during 2003 and passed the position to his son Brian. On the track, a surprising points victory by Matt Kenseth kept fans captivated all season long. Find out all the changes announced for NASCAR during 2003 -- and see exciting race pictures from the season -- with our 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup chronology.

February 2003

Tobacco company R.J. Reynolds confirms it has offered to step away from its Winston Cup sponsorship of NASCAR's premier stock car racing series.

February 16, 2003: Daytona 500

Michael Waltrip wins the rain-shortened Daytona 500. Waltrip's Chevrolet is out front when the race is called after 272.5 miles and 109 laps.

March 2, 2003: UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400

Matt Kenseth scampers away from the field in the final laps and ­finishes nine seconds in front of runner-up Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to win the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It will be Kenseth's lone triumph in 2003.

NASCAR Image Gallery

Kurt Busch wins the 2003 Sirius 400, a NASCAR Winston Cup series event.
Kurt Busch crosses the finish line first to win the June 15 Sirius 400 at Michigan International Speedway. With the win, Busch moved into the top five in points and became the season's first three-time winner. Busch finished with four wins for the season, which ranked second behind only Ryan Newman. Nonetheless, Busch was unable to crack the top ten in the final points standings. See more pictures of NASCAR.

March 16, 2003: Carolina Dodge Dealers 400

Ricky Craven edges out Kurt Busch to win the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway. The official margin of victory is 0.002 second, the closest finish since NASCAR began using electronic ­timing systems in 1993.

April 6, 2003: Aaron's 499

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., makes a decisive pass with a controversial dip below the out-of-bounds line and wins the Aaron's 499 at Talladega. NASCAR officials rule that Earnhardt, Jr., completed the pass on Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson before he crossed below the line.

June 19, 2003

NASCAR announces Nextel Communications will become the title sponsor of its top racing series in 2004. Nextel will replace Winston, which has provided sponsorship since 1971.

Robby Gordon drives in the 2003 Sirius @ The Glen event in the NASCAR Winston Cup series.
Robby Gordon pushed his #31 RCR Enterprises Chevrolet to a big lead in the Aug. 10 Sirius @ The Glen event on the historic Watkins Glen road course. Gordon led the final 30 laps and outran hired-gun and road-racing specialist Scott Pruett to rack up his second straight road-course win. Gordon also prevailed in the June 22 race at Sonoma, California, giving him a sweep of the '03 road races.

July 5, 2003: Pepsi 400

Rookie Greg Biffle pulls off an upset win in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speed­way. Pit strategy puts Biffle out front, and he coasts home when Bobby Labonte runs out of fuel on the final lap.

August 10, 2003

Road-racing specialists Robby Gordon and Scott Pruett run 1-2 in the Sirius @ The Glen. Gordon leads the final 30 laps to sweep both 2003 road-course events.

Ryan Newman's car flips during a crash in the 2003 Daytona 500, a NASCAR Winston Cup series event.
In the 56th lap of the 45th annual running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 16, Ken Schrader's #49 Dodge was clipped by Ward Burton, triggering a pileup. Schrader's car veered into the path of Ryan Newman, whose #12 Dodge went airborne and flipped violently into the infield grass along the front chute. Newman's car disintegrated into a million pieces, but, fortunately, the talented sophomore escaped unharmed.

August 15, 2003

NASCAR announces that Sunoco will replace longtime sponsor Unocal as the Official Fuel of NASCAR beginning in 2004. Unocal and its predecessor Pure Oil and Union 76 have supported NASCAR since 1952.

August 17, 2003: Michigan 400

Ryan Newman wins the Michigan 400 at Michigan Inter­national Speedway. Jimmy Spencer and Kurt Busch fight in the garage after the race. NASCAR suspends Spencer for one week for punching Busch.

The winning team kisses the bricks at the 2003 Brickyard 400, a NASCAR Winston Cup series event.
One of the rituals of the Brickyard 400 is "Kissing of the Bricks." The honor goes to the winning team in the midsummer classic at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kevin Harvick, wife DeLana, team owner Richard Childress, and the entire GM Goodwrench team knelt down in unison to perform the joyous celebration. The Brickyard 400 victory was Harvick's first of the 2003 season.

August 31, 2003: Southern 500

Terry Labonte wins the last Labor Day weekend Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. NASCAR has announced that beginning in 2004, the race date will be moved from NASCAR's original superspeedway to California Speedway.

September 13, 2003

Bill France, Jr., steps down as chairman and chief executive officer of NASCAR and names his 41-year-old son Brian as his successor.

September 21, 2003: MBNA 400

Ryan Newman makes up a two-lap deficit to win the MBNA 400 at Dover International Speedway. For the race, NASCAR implemented a rule that prohibits racing back to the caution flag, and gives a lap back to drivers who aren't on the lead lap. The new rule was announced in the wake of drivers narrowly avoiding a collision with Dale Jarrett's crashed car a week earlier at New Hampshire.

Jamie McMurray was awarded Rookie of the Year honors for the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup season.
Jamie McMurray, one of the many high-profile young guns to hit the NASCAR Winston Cup tour in recent seasons, drove the #42 Chip Ganassi Dodge in 2003. The 27-year-old from Joplin, Missouri, competed in all 36 events in the '03 season, logging five top-five finishes and 13 top-10 efforts. McMurray won the '03 Rookie of the Year award, finishing 27 points ahead of ­runner-up Greg Biffle.

October 28, 2003

Pontiac announces it is withdrawing from NASCAR competition, leaving Chevrolet as the lone General Motors make for 2004.

November 9, 2003: Pop Secret 400

With a fourth-place finish in the Pop Secret 400 at Rockingham's North Carolina Speedway, Matt Kenseth wraps up his first NASCAR Winston Cup Championship. Bill Elliott scores his first win of the season in what will be Rockingham's final autumn race.

Jimmie Johnson leads Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the 2003 Aaron's 499, a NASCAR Winston Cup series event.
Jimmie Johnson's #48 Chevrolet leads #17 Matt Kenseth and #8 Dale Earn­hardt, Jr. in the latter stages of the Aaron's 499 at Talladega. As Kenseth was battling Johnson for the lead, Earnhardt, Jr., swept low to overtake both rivals, making the pass while his left tires were below the yellow "out of bounds" line. NASCAR ruled that Earnhardt, Jr., had completed the pass before he drove below the line, a decision that outraged many competitors.

November 16, 2003: Ford 400

Bill Elliott pops a tire on the final lap allowing Bobby Labonte to win the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Elliott, in his final full season as a competitor, had dominated the race until fate dealt him a harsh card with less than a mile remaining.

December 2003

Reports indicate NASCAR will adopt a new points ­procedure to determine the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion. NASCAR will adjust the points awarded to race winners, and develop a 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup. The top 10 in the points standings after the 26th race qualify for the final 10-race chase.

Review the final standings for 2003 -- the last NASCAR season before a series of significant changes -- on the next page.

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