For Immediate Release JARRETT DRIVING STRAIGHT DOWN PATH TOWARD WINSTON CUP INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 3, 1999 -- Imagine Dale Jarrett leaning his husky, 6-foot-2 frame over a 6-foot putt at Augusta National's 18th green...
For Immediate Release
JARRETT DRIVING STRAIGHT DOWN PATH TOWARD WINSTON CUP
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 3, 1999 -- Imagine Dale Jarrett leaning his husky, 6-foot-2 frame over a 6-foot putt at Augusta National's 18th green needing only to sink it to win The Masters.
Jarrett doesn't fantasize that way at all these days.
He much prefers driving to putting.
That's race-driving in a NASCAR Winston Cup stock car.
Jarrett comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week for Saturday's sixth annual Brickyard 400 in the enviable position of leading standings by a healthy 254 points over Mark Martin. If he maintains that lead through the season finale Nov. 21 at Atlanta, he will join father Ned as a NASCAR national champion.
Back when Jarrett came out of Newton-Conover High School in Hickory, N.C., he was such a standout athlete that he was voted all-conference in football, basketball and golf. He even envisioned chasing the little white ball on the PGA TOUR.
But his father was a two-time stock car champion and promoted the local racetrack, so the draw to racing was so strong that Dale Jarrett's thoughts of becoming a golf pro had to take a back seat. He still is a near-scratch player, but the demands on his time as driver leave him little time to walk the links.
In fact, he has yet to play the championship Brickyard Crossing course that has four holes located inside the Speedway grounds.
Jarrett admits that racing is much more appealing to him as a profession now because, at age 42, he is at the top of his game as a driver. His winnings this season are $1,936,089. He won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in 1996, NASCAR's equivalent of winning The Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. He is the only driver to achieve that feat. Jarrett also had a second Brickyard victory in view last year when his domination was halted by an empty fuel tank just past the halfway point of the 160-lap race.
"I really don't like to get myself depressed like that, of what it may have been like," he said with a laugh when asked about his choice of racing over golf.
"I'm sure that would have been a real struggle, and I would have been in trouble. No, I don't really think back to it. I enjoy what I'm doing so much that I don't really look back and say, 'What if?'"
Golf isn't even his pressure relief valve. Family is.
Jarrett said someone from the family - his wife, Kelley; children Jason, Natalee, Karsyn and Zachary; father, Ned; and brother, Glenn - is at every race.
He noted that even he should have a bad day in qualifying or practice, soon after he gets back with the family, the kids are playing and wanting him to participate.
"And you can get yourself into their world and kind of forget about everything else for a little while," he said. "And sometimes that's the best medicine.
"Sometimes you can out-think yourself and do too much thinking. And they kind of put a different perspective on life. It's kind of refreshing.
"Definitely better than golf. I get too frustrated on the golf course. That's not always the best medicine for me."
The last three seasons Jarrett, driver of the Robert Yates-owned Quality Care Service /Ford Credit Ford No. 88, has been the chaser in the second half of the season as he has finished third, second and third, respectively, in the final standings. This year he is in the new position of front-runner but doesn't see the pressure as being any more intense.
"I think if anything there's a little less pressure when you get a decent lead," he said.
He feels he can go out and race knowing that the pressure is on the other challengers who must perform, as he put, at another level and hope that he falters. So far that hasn't happened.
Oddly, he started the season with a miserable 37th place finish in the Daytona 500. But in the next 18 races, he won three, placed in the top 10 in 17 and the top five in 15.
"So far we've been able to do our job," he said. "And as long as we can do that, everything will be fine. But if you're the guy chasing the guy up front, you've got to count on them having some trouble or making a mistake. It doesn't matter how good you do your job, because sometimes it's not enough.
"It's much more fun being out front and letting those guys go home and say, 'Man, those guys finished in the top five again.' Which we've done that the last few years."
Jarrett believes the Winston Cup championship is one of the toughest in sport to win, because for 34 race weekends everyone involved with the team must perform at his utmost best.
Another factor, he points out, is that with other sports if a player is injured he can be replaced. The replacement may not be as good as the player he steps in for, but he's usually capable enough that the team still can make it to the World Series or Super Bowl.
"Here, the key thing is we can't have any of our key people getting injured, because it's tough to replace them," he said.
"Especially in the driver standpoint. There is no replacement there that can carry you to the championship.
"It's long," he continued about the season. "It's definitely grinding and takes a toll on your people more than the drivers. We can definitely get through it. But these guys (mechanics) work six and seven days a week. That's quite a schedule to keep up. You're asking a lot of them."
But, Jarrett adds, when the team winds up in Victory Lane it shows that their hard work is paying off.
"Then whenever their bonus checks come home, their wife and kids say, 'This is OK,'" he said. "You've got to have that reward."
Jarrett's goal since winning the Brickyard 400 in 1996 was to become the first two-time winner. But Jeff Gordon beat him to it by winning last year.
"Yeah, we thought we were going to be the first two-time winner, but Jeff got that," he said. "And he runs well here. We'd certainly like to tie him in that. I think with the record we've had running well here each year, we'll have that opportunity.
"I'm excited about coming back here. This place keeps me pumped up to come in here and run."