News 97-11-11

NASCARFans E-Mail List ===== Thanks to everyone who responded about the Alabama Gang article. FYI, I didn't write it, Gaylen Dusky from the Alabama Live web site did. You can send e-mail to mailto:feedback@al.com. ===== Got a great little...

NASCARFans E-Mail List ===== Thanks to everyone who responded about the Alabama Gang article. FYI, I didn't write it, Gaylen Dusky from the Alabama Live web site did. You can send e-mail to mailto:feedback@al.com. ===== Got a great little item from Jody, one of our readers:

Kyle Petty was asked (recently) on The John-Boy & Billy Big Show if he thought that NASCAR would implement some type of restrictor-plate for the (Atlanta) race and he replied that the only type of restrictor that would be used was when you go through turn one and your rear-end puckers up and it restricts the blood-flow to your brain.

Thanks, Jody! ===== Here's an article by David Poole of the Charlotte Observer:

Jarrett pleased with possibilities

If Dale Jarrett is destined to lose his fight for the Winston Cup championship, he's determined to go out with a smile on his face.

Even before he won at Phoenix on Nov. 2, Jarrett sounded determined to enjoy his attempt to pass Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin to win this year's championship.

Jarrett's win at Phoenix moved him past Martin into second in the standings.

He goes into Sunday's season-ending NAPA 500 at Atlanta trailing Gordon by 77 points.

``Certainly, we would like to be 77 points ahead,'' Jarrett said. ``But we're 77 behind, so we've got to go down there and put some pressure on those guys and see what can happen. We really, truly believe that we are going to go there and win the race and things are going to go our way.''

Jarrett knows the history.

He knows only two drivers have ever gone into the final race second in the points and won the championship. He knows Alan Kulwicki's 30-point rally in the final race of 1992 is the biggest comeback. He knows that even if he wins and leads the most laps at Atlanta, Gordon can win the championship by finishing 18th or better.

Jarrett can't change all that.

``We can only be concerned about the things we can do,'' he said. ``If we can apply any pressure at all, it would be to go to Atlanta and be fast in practice and qualify up front to show those guys that they are going to have to race all day long.''

Jarrett and his crew chief, Todd Parrott, haven't trotted out the big guns to wage psychological warfare with Gordon and his team. But they have been looking around the edges to see if they can find a crack in the battlements.

``They are tight,'' Parrott said of Gordon and his team. ``Their rubber band is wound real tight now, and I see that. ...

``We'll just try not to add any pressure on our guys, because we're not the ones with the guns pointed toward our heads, we're the ones with the guns pointed. We don't have anything to lose, and a lot to gain.''

Gordon won 10 of this season's first 25 races, but over the past six he has finished no higher than fourth. He finished 35th at Talladega and 17th at Phoenix. Just four races ago, Gordon led Jarrett by 222 points.

``I don't even want to mention that they have had problems in the last few races, because they seldom have problems,'' Jarrett said after his victory at Phoenix. ``But this is a tough series, and if you are off just a little bit anywhere, it's easy to lose a lot of positions.

``They can't just go ride at Atlanta. They have to run, because they know that we are going there with a legitimate chance at winning the race.''

Jarrett remembers watching his father, Ned, go through the pressures of a points race. Ned Jarrett won the championship in 1961 and 1965.

``Even though it was a lot of years ago, I remember how he handled it and what he was going through,'' Dale Jarrett said. ``It can be a very difficult situation if you let it be.'' Jarrett chooses to talk confidently about his chances, partly because he thinks that's the best approach for himself and his team and partly because confidence is what he actually feels.

``I think it's important in my position as the driver to have a lot of confidence in our team,'' he said. ``They believe that whenever we show up and I get ready to get into the car that I'm going to give them everything that I can and that I believe totally in them. ``This is not something that I just talk. It's not just lip service. It's a true belief that I have the best people in the business working for me and on the race car that I am fortunate enough to drive.

``Nobody has told us we can't win this championship, and we wouldn't listen to them if they did. I don't know that we are cocky. We're confident, we have a lot of confidence in each other and in each other's ability.

``We have a chance, and that's all that we could have asked for.''

Thanks, David, great article. ===== Here's another good article by Dave Rodman of NASCAR Online:

Championships very often are major breakthroughs in athlete's careers, and such is the case for 1997 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Jack Sprague.

>From the time he came south to the Carolinas from Spring Lake, Mich., Sprague was a fiery, indomitable competitor. Neither walls, nor torn-off fenders, nor even seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt himself could blunt Sprague's hard-bitten, nearly maniacal drive to achieve success in NASCAR. He settled outside Charlotte and quickly made his name on the area's short tracks. Sprague's fire to achieve greatness in NASCAR's upper divisions, however, had gathered few results in nearly 10 years of beating the bushes, until he hooked up with Hendrick Motorsports mid-way through the inaugural series season in 1995. The turnaround has been phenomenal, and Sprague's first championship was locked-up after only 57 races in Hendrick's Chevrolet truck. And at that, the 33-year-old driver only had to take the green flag in last Sunday's Carquest Auto Parts 420K Presented By Las Vegas Events to clinch the title. His freeze-out of season-long nemesis Rich Bickle ; defending NCTS champion Ron Hornaday, who established a series record for career victories trying vainly to overhaul Sprague; and every other truck competitor, was accomplished via an incredible 1997 record of five Busch Pole Awards, three race wins -- on both superspeedways and a short track -- 16 top-5 finishes and a truly title clinching 23 top-10 finishes in 26 starts in the Quaker State Chevrolet. Sprague has not lost his competitive fire, as his record shows, but something else is missing from his current portfolio -- unbridled aggression. To a great degree, he has learned to focus and direct that emotion, and his ambition. The change begs the question: Has it been the influence of Rick Hendrick , who Sprague describes as "the perfect owner;" or Jimmy Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports' omnipresent general manager, who saw Sprague's potential and pushed to give him a chance; or is it Dennis Connor, a wily and capable crew chief with more than 20 years experience? The answer is none of the above. After so many years of racing, and of letting his racing do all his talking -- while his father scrabbled and negotiated with sponsors for Jack's Late Model stock car efforts because his son "didn't really like to say too much about his racing," Jack Sprague had to figure out that winning races, championships and even respect from his peers and fans just didn't matter ..." And a baby was responsible for that. "My daughter is the love of my life, and probably the birth of her is what made me good, because it made me realize I don't need this," said Sprague of his and wife Rhonda's daughter Paige Nicole, who was born October 12, 1994. "Always before I tried too hard -- tried way too hard -- and I'd get myself in bad situations and I'd mess up and wreck. "Paige knocked a lot of that out of me, and the proof of that is that in all the truck races we've run, we've only failed to finish one and that was a mechanical failure. I've never wrecked out of a single one since the day it began...not that I haven't wrecked, but I haven't wrecked to where I couldn't continue." Sprague just shakes his head at the thought of it. "You know, this championship is the biggest thing that's ever happened in my career," he said quietly, "but like I've said many times since the birth of my daughter, I don't have to race nothing -- I could have a perfectly fine life without racing. "If it came down to one or the other, and I don't see how it ever could, I just don't have to do this ... but I love to do it, and I'll probably continue for the rest of my career until I'm about 50 years old like the rest of these guys do." And do it he has, and to great effect. The championship season is the culmination of a three-year metamorphosis. In that time Sprague, one of only five drivers who has competed in all 70 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events held in the three-year history of the nationwide tour, has scored eight victories, 35 top-5 finishes, 56 top-10 finishes and eight Busch Pole Awards. Perhaps the most incredible stat that Sprague has logged, on his way in 1997 to setting a single-season record for money winnings with more than $525,000 and going over the career million dollar in truck winnings mark, is that in those 70 starts he has only recorded one DNF, or "did not finish." While the Hendrick Motorsports/Quaker State crew is most responsible for that, it underscores the effectiveness of the team -- one of the series' charter organizations -- that has been assembled. "This championship means a lot to me and obviously it's the biggest thing I've ever accomplished," Sprague said. "But I'm almost more happy for the guys because they've worked so hard. I'm only 1/12th of the equation. "The guys on this team are awesome and we get along great and that's the reason we're sitting where we're sitting -- because the chemistry is so good between Dennis and myself and the guys. Everybody there has done a great job for me and has had a lot of confidence in me. They went out on a limb to hire me and hopefully they feel they've got their money's worth." For Sprague, the chemistry of this organization is something that can't be overlooked, and he paid his team perhaps his biggest compliment when he explained the transient role of team solidarity. "I think the people involved in the sport understand the chemistry you need, but I don't know if the fans know," Sprague said. "They see a guy win on Sunday and they say, 'Hey, he had a great motor ... ' Well that motor's just one piece. "There's a million pieces and the biggest thing is chemistry, because if you're not getting along with the team and the team's not getting along with you, they're not going to work hard for you and lay it on the line for you -- just like if I didn't have confidence in them I couldn't go out there and lay it on the line. "This is probably the tightest team in this garage area." Not surprisingly, Connor, who worked as a NASCAR Winston Cup crewman and crew chief for more than 20 years before taking the reigns of Hendrick's truck program, echoes Sprague's feelings about the championship ... and the championship team, though he was still trying to focus it on Sunday. "I haven't really had a chance to qualify it," said Connor, who honed his art working with championship teams such as Junior Johnson & Associates, Richard Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. "This whole team has been so focused on achieving this goal, all year long, because it was something that was very important to all of us. And it was very important to all of us because Rick (Hendrick) expressed to us that it was very important to him to win this truck championship this year." "We've been unbelievably focused on it," said Connor, who notched his first championship while giving Hendrick the opportunity to sweep both top-level NASCAR series that he competes in, with driver Jeff Gordon leading the NASCAR Winston Cup standings heading into the season-ending NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "When I've faltered Jack's bolstered me up, like I've done for him. It's been tough, but we haven't faltered much. "For me personally, this championship is very rewarding because I've been doing this for about 24 years now and it undoubtedly will be the biggest achievement in my career. But I don't in any way deserve a lot of the credit for it because it's taken all the resources at Hendrick's, Jack's driving style and all the hard work by everyone on the crew." Ironically, Sprague scored two more top-5 finishes in 1996, when he lost the championship to Hornaday by 53 points. But his 1997 season included only one finish worse than 16th -- the Texas Motor Speedway DNF and resulting 31st place finish. Therefore, Hendrick Motorsports' near-term plans should chill the competition just a bit. "We'll run one more year in the trucks and then try to win rookie of the year in the Winston Cup Series in 1999," Sprague said. "Quaker State will be back with us as an associate sponsor so we're looking for a primary sponsor. "Up to this point we had been looking for a Winston Cup sponsor, but it got too late to get it done and get it done right, so we backed up and will run the trucks another year, try to win another championship and go on from there." And with his priorities in order, Sprague is sure to be smiling every step of the way. ===== Yes, it's a slow news day. ===== Mike Irwin (mailto:mike@nascarfans.com) NASCAR Fans _______________________________________

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