Dale Jarret Shows his Age

Jarrett shows his age -- off the track By Marty Smith HAMPTON, Ga., (Nov. 19, 1999) For the first time in his storybook 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, Dale Jarrett showed his age Friday morning when he revealed his band of choice...

Jarrett shows his age -- off the track By Marty Smith

HAMPTON, Ga., (Nov. 19, 1999) For the first time in his storybook 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, Dale Jarrett showed his age Friday morning when he revealed his band of choice for next month's series banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. "We're gonna have the Commodores, those of us back in my era we'll enjoy that," Jarrett said. "For those of you too young to remember it, you'll get some good music lessons."

Jarrett, who turns 43 next week, has himself been riding a high note all season in the No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Ford. With one race remaining, he leads the series in top-5s (23) and top-10s (28), and clinched his first series championship with a fifth-place run last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Despite his sustained excellence, the magnitude of his accomplishment has yet to sink in.

"I think this weekend will help some in that respect as we get through another celebration on Sunday after the race. And then I'm sure as we get ready for New York that it will become more of a reality," Jarrett said. "You always wonder how you'll feel and how you'll handle things if they should come along and it's been a lot of fun. You get a lot of practice in saying thank you when everyone says congratulations, but that's a good thing."

That it is, on several fronts. First and foremost, the mammoth load that has been squarely placed in the center of Jarrett's back since May 11 -- when he took the points lead for good -- has been lifted. Second, having already secured the title, his approach to this weekend's NAPA 500 takes on a unique perspective.

"It's a free weekend kind of," he said. "I said the other day it's kind of like being able to run The Winston, but I haven't had much success in that so I'm not gonna us that analogy anymore. We've looked at it in a couple of different ways. We can use it a little bit as a test, but we're gonna go all out and do everything that we can to try to win.

"I know the guys in the engine shop were working hard the other day to give me a good qualifying engine. They're trying to get me the pole. I told them I wasn't sure that I had the nerve to run around here wide-open with one of their engines, but if they got it fast enough we'd try to get the a pole."

He fell short, qualifying 10th. That means that Jarrett is just the fifth driver in the modern era to win the championship without starting on the Bud Pole at least once. The last driver to do so was Dale Earnhardt in 1991.

20 years ago, Jarrett devoted his life to racing, but it wasn't until recently that the ride began to smooth itself out. He has experienced punishing low points that Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt never had to tolerate. He's been the object of scrutiny as recent as four years ago. He wasn't supposed to be good enough when he took the reigns of the No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Ford for Robert Yates in 1995. Still, he maintained his trademark gentlemanly manner, smiling to hide the hurt. He refused to succumb to the demons of negativity, and in the end has made it evident that good guys can indeed finish on top.

"I think (the hardships) have made me better in a lot of ways and that's not to say the way that I've done it or had to do it is better or that much different than anybody else out there," Jarrett said. "Anybody else that's been successful in this business has had a long road to get here. I don't mean to make my story out to be one that's different in that respect. Sure, it was a lot of hard work and a lot of effort, but everybody out here puts that towards their career.

"Do I appreciate it more? I don't know that I appreciate it more, but I do appreciate it a lot because of what I had to go through to get to this point. I think it's a good positive way to learn this business because I've pretty much seen all sides. I had the opportunity to work with my dad when he was promoting Hickory Speedway, so I was on the side of knowing what it took to make that happen week in and week out, with getting the racetrack prepared and getting the people there. I've also seen the side of going into that promoter's office and asking for money to help me get to the next week.

"I think all of those things and running my own business, paying all the bills, building the cars and learning the cars from one side to the other helped make me a better driver. That was the best for Dale Jarrett and the way that I had to do it. Again, I appreciate it and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I think this all came at a time when I really can appreciate it more that if it had happened some time before."

Be careful Dale, you're showing your age again.

nascar.com

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Robert Yates