Jarrett gains respect in championship effort By Marty Smith HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 15, 1999) It took 15 long and often tumultuous seasons, but Dale Jarrett finally tasted the sweetest portion of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series pie Sunday afternoon,...
Jarrett gains respect in championship effort By Marty Smith
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 15, 1999) It took 15 long and often tumultuous seasons, but Dale Jarrett finally tasted the sweetest portion of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series pie Sunday afternoon, and no one is happier for him than the 42 men he trades paint with on a weekly basis.
"I want to congratulate Robert Yates, Todd Parrott and especially Dale Jarrett," said Jeff Gordon, the three-time and defending series champion, who Jarrett soundly humbled with a Gordon-like season. "They're a class act, very professional. They've done a great job this year. They've been very consistent and didn't have many engine failures. He's been knocking on the door and this is his year, that's for sure. I'm real proud of him. He'll be a great champion."
That he will. The driver of the No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford stands for everything good. Above all else, he's a God-fearing family man, deeply devoted to his wife Kelley and their four children. His intense yet humble nature makes him a role model for all men. His gumption is immeasurable. His resilience, likewise. Thus, he is a champion's champion - just ask the champion.
"I want to congratulate Jarrett," said Dale Earnhardt, who has won a series record-tying seven titles. "Robert Yates has worked really hard as a team owner, just like Richard Childress has. Dale Jarrett has worked really hard over the years too. He deserves this."
Heading into Sunday's affair, Jarrett needed to finish eighth or better to clinch the championship. He started the race 12th, but quickly surged through the field and into the top-5. From there, he sailed to a fifth-place finish - his 23rd such run in 33 series races this season - and clinched the championship with one race still remaining, this weekend's NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
By doing so, Jarrett and father Ned join Lee and "King" Richard Petty as the lone father-son duos to win championships in 51 years of racing in NASCAR's premiere division. Following the race, Ned Jarrett in his typical humble manner said his son's accomplishment far surpassed his own efforts behind the wheel.
That coming from a man who won 50 races and two championships, the old adage of father-son likeness certainly applies here. Both are proud fathers and proud husbands. Both are humble champions. Like father, like son. That pretty much says it all.
"He was really proud of what we'd done," said Dale Jarrett of his father. "I think, being a father, I know how much it means to me for my children to accomplish something and he's told me a number of times that this would mean more to him than his two championships and I give him a lot of thanks and credit for everything that's happened in my career.
"This sport has been awful good to the Jarrett family over the years. To now become the second father-son team to win a Winston Cup championship is pretty special to us. Hopefully we've given a little something back to the sport. The fans have just been fantastic to us. This is just an incredible feeling, a great day for the Jarrett family. I just hope that there is more to come."
Although it may seem that Jarrett's life is just one large fairy tale, that is far from the case. His road to the No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford was bumpy, his ability questioned time and time again. When Yates decided to put the budding driver into the seat of the coveted No. 28 Texaco Havoline Ford in 1995, some questioned the move. The ride had been previously filled with stars such as the late Davey Allison and Ernie Irvan, both of whom seemed destined to bring Yates his first series title as an owner.
First, Allison's helicopter crashed at Talladega Superspeedway, abruptly ending the life of a can't-miss champion. Then, Yates nearly lost Irvan in a crash at Michigan Speedway in 1994 just when he was coming into his prime. He by all means could've conceivably brought Yates his first title.
It was then that Yates took a gamble on Jarrett, the one driver no one thought had the talent to get the job done. In 1995, he recorded 14 top-10 runs and finished 13th in the point standings. Good yes, but subpar for the driver of the 28 car. In 1996, Yates opted for a two-car operation, placing Jarrett in the 88 car and moving Irvan back to the 28. From there, Jarrett's career took off. Since that time, he's finished third, second, third and now first in the championship standings, winning 18 races and finishing in the top-5 79 times.
Sunday, he held the championship trophy high above his head, his trademark grin buried beneath a mustache soaked in tears. Finally, NASCAR's "silent assassin" had received his due, but as always, sent the credit elsewhere.
"I want to start out by thanking God for all of the talents on this race team and for giving me the opportunity to work with these people," said Jarrett, whose best career championship finish prior to this season was second in 1997. "Robert and Doug Yates, Carolyn (Yates), Todd Parrott, this entire group.
"You know this all wouldn't have been possible without two guys that were with Robert Yates before. We'd be remiss if we didn't thank Davey Allison for starting this whole thing and getting it to a championship level, and Ernie Irvan coming in and doing his part, being a great friend and a great teammate.
"I'd like to thank my family. It's just an awesome feeling. It's just fantastic."