NASCAR has approved Ford's 2000 Taurus for competition after an exhaustive testing program in the wind tunnel and on the track.

"We're really relieved," said Jay Novak, Winston Cup program manager for Ford Racing Technology.

The Taurus, the first four-door model ever to run full time in NASCAR's top stock car series, debuted at the 1998 Daytona 500 and has racked up 28 victories in 65 races.

The new Taurus, to be used by Ford teams beginning with the Daytona 500 in February, looks more like the car being sold to the public than the 1999 version, Novak said.

He said that the changes NASCAR asked for were minor but that the process took longer than expected because it was being done during the season.

"It was a huge undertaking," Novak said.

The 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which is also considered a somewhat radical departure from the current model, is in testing and awaiting final approval from NASCAR.

Meanwhile, the Chevy teams have been griping about what they consider a Ford and Pontiac aerodynamic advantage this season.

Fords and Pontiacs took the top seven spots at last Sunday's race in Rockingham, N.C.

"Having a Chevrolet was like bringing a .22 and the rest of them have got 9 millimeters," said Sterling Marlin, who was eighth in a Monte Carlo.

"It seems like the Pontiacs and Fords have got so much downforce they can overcome a slick track like Rockingham, and we've got to be perfect. Next year might be a different story. Maybe Chevrolet will be on a level playing field next year."

As for Dodge, it will introduce a new Intrepid for the 2001 season.

Rich Could Get Richer

Dale Jarrett has been leading the Winston Cup points race since May 15, and with a 246-point lead and only three races remaining, he looks like a shoo-in for his first series title and the accompanying $2 million payoff.

Not only that, but a victory Nov. 7 in Phoenix would result in a $120,000 bonus.

The Winston Cup Leader Bonus goes to the driver leading the series when he wins a race. It builds at $10,000 a race until it is claimed.

Jarrett won $60,000 for his victory in May in Richmond, where he took the series lead. He won an additional $30,000 when he took the checkered flag in the Brickyard 400 in August.

Since then, Jarrett has gone 11 races without a victory.

Martin's Plans

Mark Martin is scheduled for spinal fusion surgery on Nov. 22, the morning after the season finale in Atlanta. Yet he's already planning his comeback.

"I would like to really, really focus on Daytona and go to Daytona and run good--I mean, run good," said Martin, who is in nearly constant pain and can do little more physically than lift a few weights and drive his race car.

"I'm probably going to get someone to do my [offseason] test at Daytona and probably Talladega as well. The first time I'll climb in the car is, I think, February 10 when practice starts at Daytona."

NASCAR

Winston Cup

Upcoming event: Dura-Lube 500, Phoenix, Nov. 7

Points Leaders

1. Dale Jarrett 4,772

2. Bobby Labonte 4,526

3. Mark Martin 4,438

4. Jeff Gordon 4,298

5. Tony Stewart 4,286

6. Jeff Burton 4,243

7. Dale Earnhardt 4,082

8. Rusty Wallace 3,837

9. Ward Burton 3,682

10. Mike Skinner 3,603

Money Leaders

1. Jeff Gordon $5,072,956

2. Jeff Burton $4,886,666

3. Dale Jarrett $3,331,089

4. Bobby Labonte $3,055,916

5. Dale Earnhardt $2,534,739

6. Mark Martin $2,466,046

7. Terry Labonte $2,157,521

8. Tony Stewart $2,112,661

9. Mike Skinner $2,031,681

10. Rusty Wallace $2,011,004

-- Through Pop Secret

Popcorn 400,Oct. 24

Busch Grand National

Upcoming event: Memphis 250, Today

Points Leaders

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 4,117

2. Matt Kenseth 4,036

3. Jeff Green 3,902

4. Todd Bodine 3,649

5. Elton Sawyer 3,484

6. Jeff Purvis 3,364

7. Jason Keller 3,328

8. Dave Blaney 3,231

9. Mike McLaughlin 3,114

10. Randy LaJoie 3,106

--Through Rockingham 200, Oct. 23