Jarrett makes his point in Pepsi 400 By Dave Rodman DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 5, 1999) Dale Jarrett, the leader in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings at the mid-point of the 34-race season, took a lot of comfort Saturday from the...
Jarrett makes his point in Pepsi 400 By Dave Rodman
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 5, 1999) Dale Jarrett, the leader in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings at the mid-point of the 34-race season, took a lot of comfort Saturday from the knowledge that for the last six years, the point leader heading into the mid-season Pepsi 400 had gone on to win the $1 million championship.
When the 400-mile race around Daytona International Speedway's high-banked 2.5-mile trioval was complete, Jarrett had added an exclamation point to his third victory at the "World Center of Racing." He left Daytona with a 177-point lead in the championship which, at this point in the season and given Jarrett's trademark consistency, is going to be a tough hump to overcome.
"Obviously, we could finish last in the next race and Bobby could win and we'd still be leading the points," Jarrett said of his closest pursuer, Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte. "That's a nice feeling to have, but I think it's an even better feeling to know that we can go race and race hard and try to win some races.
"That will put more pressure on those guys to perform. I think the last five or six weeks have shown us what we needed to know about these Tauruses and that we're gonna run pretty good at most places. We've got a lot of confidence right now."
That's shown in Jarrett's performance so far this season, which could've been a powder keg after he suffered a catastrophic wreck in the Daytona 500 that knocked him back to 37th. Championship teams bounce back from disasters such as that, and Jarrett's Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Ford team has proven that it is of championship caliber.
Since the Daytona debacle, Jarrett has been in the top-10 15 out of 17 races, or virtually 90 percent of the time. He has been in the top-five an astounding 13 out of 17 races, better than an 80 percent average. His worst finish, other than the opener, has been 11th. It's the performance of a championship caliber team, indeed.
As such, it has brought Jarrett up as the target of any number of questions of improprieties. Saturday night was one such instance.
Jarrett's tactics at the end of the race, as the field slowly circulated behind the pace car under caution, brought some questions when Jarrett momentarily passed the blue Pontiac Grand Prix with its flickering strobe lights. According to Jarrett and a key NASCAR official, what seemed to be an issue was far from it.
"I was just being careful, making sure," Jarrett said of his concern over running out of fuel. "Riding on the bank that slow gives the fuel plenty of time to go away from the pickup that's over on the right side of it and we just didn't want to take any chances. We felt we had enough fuel, especially under caution, to make it, but there's no sense in taking a chance in having the thing burping and running out or something for a split second and then being hard to crank up."
"I lost sight of the pace car," Jarrett said in simple explanation. "I was trying to look away because we have a fuel light and fuel pressure gauge and I didn't want to see either one of them. I was looking away and by looking away and wanting to get around there as quick as I could, I just lost sight of the pace car for a minute.
"I wanted him to be running at the speed he was supposed to be running. When you get down there (on the apron), it's hard to turn your head up and look up 31 degrees of banking and see exactly (where it was), but I really didn't want to look to the right. If that light would have come on, that wouldn't have been good."
NASCAR Director of Operations Kevin Triplett said the rule regarding passing the pace car is designed to prevent competitors from gaining an advantage, primarily by passing the pace car while pitting, thereby getting to their pit sooner; or passing the pace car in order to pick up a full lap on the competition.
According to Triplett, Jarrett did neither.
"Jarrett, in an obvious effort to conserve fuel, (dived) to the apron," Triplett said. "With the pace car remaining on the race track, Jarrett took the shorter distance, thus temporarily moving ahead of the pace car. He slowed down, moved back into place and gained no advantage.
"It turned out to be a non-issue."
The issue for Jarrett now is maintaining the pace he has established, and seeking his fourth win of 1999. Interestingly enough, the driver said he and his crew have reverted to their 1997 notes, when they won seven races, and in doing so have found the "secret" to competitive consistency.
Now, Jarrett, crew chief Todd Parrott and his Robert Yates Racing crew have no plans to back down their pace heading into this weekend's Jiffy Lube 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon.
"Things may blow up in our face, but we're gonna go to Loudon and try to win that race and show on one-mile flat tracks that we're pretty good, too," Jarrett said. "As far as getting conservative, I don't think that's gonna happen. We want to get as big a lead as we can and enjoy it.
"Hopefully, the end of the season will get here soon."
Source: NASCAR Online