Single rough stretch ends Jarrett's hopes
By Dave Rodman

New York (Dec. 5, 2000) Dale Jarrett and Robert Yates Racing painted a picture of consistency when they won the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship. In 2000, they found out how fickle the fortunes of racing can be.

Save for two rough strings Jarrett, crew chief Todd Parrott and their Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford team enjoyed just as strong a season as they did in their championship campaign.

But a series of four finishes of 17th or worse in a six-race stretch that began with the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March knocked him out of championship contention. And a season-ending drought consisting of six finishes of 15th or worse in the final 10 races killed any chance Jarrett had of challenging first-time champion Bobby Labonte down the stretch.

As a result, Jarrett will be rewarded for a fourth-place finish in the point standings when he walks across the stage at the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Awards Banquet on Friday in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria.

"We were just off a little bit all year," Jarrett said of his season, which was certainly nothing to sneer at. "We just never were as competitive as we needed to be."

That was hardly what the season opening weekend looked like for the Yates entourage. Jarrett won the Bud Pole for the Daytona 500 and then won two preliminary non-points events and finished second in his Gatorade 125-Mile Qualifying Race for the Daytona 500 -- which he went on to win for the third time.

But while top-7 finishes at Rockingham and Las Vegas followed, Jarrett's season hit the skids after he won the Bud Pole at Atlanta. He finished 36th in the race after losing an engine. After he rebounded to finish second at Darlington, he ended up 21st at Bristol and 33rd at Texas. And he was mired in eighth in the points.

That could have caused his team to tuck its tail and fold, but that was far from the case for the veteran outfit.

"There is pressure everywhere that you go all the time," Jarrett said of the drop in points and his team's reaction to it. "It's no different than at the beginning of the season. The only thing is, depending on your points position -- if you've got that locked up or if you're trying to advance or keep that position -- it's still pressure all the time, and you go there pretty much the same way all the time."

Through the middle of the season Jarrett scored a remarkable 16 straight top-10 finishes, which put him back in second in points to Labonte. But 10 races remained and the team staggered badly down the stretch. Jarrett ended up with a creditable 15 top-5 and 24 top-10 finishes, but it wasn't enough to counteract Labonte's rock-solid 19 top-5 finishes.

"Even when we were hanging around there it wasn't like we were as good as Bobby and his team," said Jarrett, who ironically was championship owner Joe Gibbs' first NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver. "They've just been very good all year long and they deserve to win the championship."

Despite his rough stretches that prevented him from equaling his phenomenal championship year totals of 24 top-5 and 29 top-10 finishes, Jarrett still won twice and finished in the top-5 in the points for the fifth straight year.

"I couldn't put my finger on one thing," said Jarrett, who failed to win his second race of the season until Rockingham in October. "We've just been off that little bit and it's kept us from being up front and leading races as much as we should."

Despite that Jarrett still finished sixth in NASCAR's miles leader standings, leading 26 times in 15 different races.

Even though he finished the season in the NAPA 500 at Atlanta in 15th, Jarrett was enthusiastic about the future.

"What we need to do is to learn right now for next year," Jarrett said at Atlanta. "We need to make sure that we're learning some things that are gonna be beneficial to us as we get ready to start the 2001 season and try to win a championship there. Hopefully, we can kind of hold our own here and get back to Victory Lane."

Jarrett was also recognized for his ongoing community service efforts with the fourth quarter nomination as the "NASCAR True Value Man of the Year." Throughout the 2000 season, Jarrett spent time educating fans and raising awareness as a national spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

In addition to his involvement with this program, Jarrett is also the national spokesperson for the Disabled American Veterans. Around his hometown of Hickory, N.C., Jarrett sponsors an annual golf tournament for the Lutheran Counseling Center and supports and participates in activities for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, March of Dimes and YMCA of Catawba Valley. This past spring he chaired an "Education Alive" benefit for the Hickory Public Schools. -nascar.com-