HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 14, 1999) Dale Jarrett wrapped up his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in much the same manner that put him in position to secure it: with patience, determination, a lot of teamwork and a little bit of racing ...
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 14, 1999) Dale Jarrett wrapped up his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in much the same manner that put him in position to secure it: with patience, determination, a lot of teamwork and a little bit of racing luck.
Jarrett finished fifth in the Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway while Bobby Labonte finished third and led the most laps. Labonte picked up 15 points on DJ, but the unofficial margin between first and second is 211 points with just one race remaining. That's an insurmountable lead, making Jarrett Ford's first champion since 1992. He is also only the third champion in the 1990s to head to Atlanta with the title wrapped up.
"Our job was to finish in the top-8," Jarrett said, referring to the finishing position that would guarantee him the title, "and we thought he was a car that was very capable of that, if we could stay out of trouble. Everybody did a great job out here today and Todd (Parrott, crew chief), as usual, gave me a good race car, one that I could just be easy with and get into positions I needed to."
Jarrett's method Sunday was methodical -- just as it has been all year. He has almost never had the best car in the early going, but he has avoided wrecks with an almost eerie skill. As each race has worn on, Parrott and the 88 crew have made the car better and better. Nearly every week that blue car is near the front at the end.
With the exception of one amazing performance at Michigan in June, Jarrett has rarely had a dominant car. He has led the most laps only four times, and hasn't won a race since the Brickyard 400 in August.
The Pennzoil 400 brought more of the same. Jarrett started 12th and ran between seventh and ninth over the first 100 laps. He climbed to fifth when Jeremy Mayfield was penalized for speeding on pit road, and stayed at least that high the rest of the way.
"We started out, the car was a little loose," Jarrett said, "so we just kind of made our way around for that first set of tires and made some adjustments and got the car a little better. We got the car better on the next stop.
"We were no match for Tony Stewart and Bobby (Labonte, who led the most laps). They were just incredible. We adjusted on the car and got it back a little too loose when we got the caution. We couldn't really get the car hooked up. We just had to stay out of trouble."
They did stay out of trouble, for once not having to battle back from a cut tire or a bad set of tires or some other frustration. But the result was the same -- another top-5, a series-leading 23rd of the year.
Jeff Gordon leads the series in wins. Labonte is in the middle of his second dazzling string of top finishes. Stewart is the hottest thing going in any sort of racing. But Jarrett did it right all year long, and so he's the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion.