With the negative energy that has surrounded his team during the past couple of weeks, it's no wonder that Dale Jarrett is looking forward to the Nextel All-Star race this weekend in Charlotte. Last week, Jarrett confirmed the rumors that he...
With the negative energy that has surrounded his team during the past couple of weeks, it's no wonder that Dale Jarrett is looking forward to the Nextel All-Star race this weekend in Charlotte.
Last week, Jarrett confirmed the rumors that he is planning on leaving Robert Yates Racing to team up with Michael Waltrip and his new Toyota team. Naturally, Ford was furious after supporting the veteran driver since he joined Yates in 1995. Adding to the media storm, Jarrett found out this week that he will in deed be without crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe for the next month after he lost his appeal on penalties handed out after the UPS Ford was found with an illegal mounting on the rear sway bar in Richmond.
It's easy to understand why Jarrett is happy to be spending the next couple of weeks racing close to home. After Saturday night's all-star race, the team will get ready for next Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.
"I think I can safely say I speak for most people in the garage when I say it's certainly nice and a welcome stretch on the schedule," said Jarrett, who has three wins at Lowe's Motor Speedway, including the 600 in 1996. "It's an excellent race track. It would be hard for us to find a two-week stint anywhere that is more successful than this. The guys get to stay at home most of the time and get to sleep in their own bed and that's worth a whole lot considering they're on the road for another 34 weekends a year."
Jarrett has raced in the All-Star event for 15 straight seasons. He had back-to-back second place finishes in 2000 and 2001 and will be looking for his first All-Star win on Saturday (7:00 p.m. Eastern on FX).
"I think it's a fair comparison to say that it is the equivalent of the NBA or Major League Baseball's all-star breaks," said Jarrett, who earned his ticket to the event with a win at Talladega last October. "This is our weekend to kick back and have a good time while we're still competing. It's not as stressful as the weekends where we're worrying about points and all that but we're here to have a good time and put on a good show. I think any all-star type event tries to accomplish the same thing whether you're talking about football, basketball or baseball or whatever."
Jarrett addressed the media last week at Darlington to announce that he is leaving Yates after 12 seasons together.
"This was a very difficult decision," said the second generation racer, who starting racing full time in the Nextel Cup Series in 1987. "I feel this is a great opportunity for me to take on a new challenge and what they are building at Michael Waltrip Racing fits my plans for the future."
Jarrett made his Cup Series debut in 1984 and was in the series full time in 1987 driving for Eric Freedlander. He also drove for Cale Yarborough and the Wood Brothers before becoming Joe Gibbs' first driver in 1992. Jarrett left Gibbs after three years to join Yates and became a championship contender almost immediately. After finishing in the top three for three straight years, Jarrett won the championship in 1999.
"My tenure at Robert Yates Racing has been extremely important to me, my family and my career," said Jarrett, one of only five drivers that have won the Daytona 500 three times. "We accomplished a lot together during the past 12 years and I am thankful to Robert and everyone at RYR and Ford Motor Company for the opportunities afforded me and the success we have all shared."
Despite the turmoil, Jarrett is looking forward to helping Waltrip build the Toyota team from the ground up much like Ray Evernham did when Dodge came back into the sport in 2001.
"What Michael has pulled together is impressive and I want to be a part of it," Jarrett said. "The Daytona 500 might seem far away, but for a race team it is right around the corner. Michael's team is building cars now, their core management team is in place, the competition department is established and sponsors are locked up. From that perspective, it doesn't feel like I am going to a brand new team."