Dale Jarrett A Solid Season - Not Good Enough

Solid season not good enough for Jarrett By Shawn A. Akers NEW YORK (Dec. 2, 1998) It was the same old hollow feeling for Dale Jarrett. A good, solid 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup season, but, like the previous year, one not good enough to win it all.

Solid season not good enough for Jarrett By Shawn A. Akers

NEW YORK (Dec. 2, 1998) It was the same old hollow feeling for Dale Jarrett. A good, solid 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup season, but, like the previous year, one not good enough to win it all. The only differences between 1997 and 1998 for Jarrett, however, is that his victory total tailed off sharply (from seven to three), and he fell from second to a distant third in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings.

Three wins and third place in the standings is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, but for the driver of the No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Taurus, who had the potential and aspirations of winning his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship, the end result was certainly not desirable. Instead of Jarrett and his team celebrating at Friday's post-season awards banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria, it's Jeff Gordon again, for the second straight year.

"We've got a good race team, but Jeff Gordon and them guys . . . we just got to say congratulations," said Jarrett, who won over $3.3 million in 1998. "They've been the team this year and they just beat us at the end right there (in the season finale at Atlanta). You've got to give them credit because they do it right. I'm proud of my guys and look forward to next year.

"We've had this team for three years now and we haven't finished lower than third in points, so that's something we can be proud of. We just know how high the bar has been set by the 24 team and 6 team (of Mark Martin). We're going to get there with them next year."

The season-opening Daytona 500 may have been an omen for Jarrett and the 88 team. Jarrett developed mechanical problems with his Ford, and wound up finishing a disappointing 34th. He rebounded with a seventh-place run at Rockingham the following week, but had engine problems at Las Vegas in week 3 and came home 40th.

Jarrett would finish lower than 40th three times during the season (Las Vegas, California and Martinsville), while Gordon finished lower than 30th just twice. Gordon's lowest finish of the season came at Richmond in June (37th).

Things began to turn around in week four at Atlanta, when Jarrett finished second to Bobby Labonte. His first win of the year came the next week at Darlington in the TranSouth Financial 400, which vaulted him into the top-10 in the point standings for the first time. He didn't fall out of the top-10 for the rest of the season.

Unlike a consistent 1997 campaign, however, it was another two months before Jarrett saw victory lane again. He put on a spectacular display at Dover in late May to win the MBNA Platinum 400.

The epitome of Jarrett's frustrations in 1998 played out at the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis on Aug. 1. After starting second, Jarrett dominated the first half of the 160-lap event, then ran out of gas under green flag conditions. His crew had to run all the way down pit lane to push him back to his pit stall, and by the time he had gotten back on the race track, he was four laps down. To show how strong he was on that day, he wound up making up the four laps and finished in 16th position, on the lead lap.

After falling to fourth in the points following a 15th-place run at Sears Point in late June, Jarrett regained the third position the following week at Loudon, N.H., and maintained it for the rest of the season. It became apparent late in the season, however, that Jarrett wouldn't challenge Gordon for the title, and he wound up a whopping 709 points behind the champion, 345 points behind second-place Martin.

As if Gordon's dominance wasn't enough, Jarrett was sidelined at Phoenix with a gall stone attack. He started the Dura Lube/Kmart 500, but had to be relieved by Michael Waltrip during the event. Surgery wasn't necessary and Jarrett returned the following week at Rockingham, where he finished second. He wound up the season with a second-place run in the NAPA 500 at Atlanta. Gordon didn't steal the spotlight completely, however. While Gordon won a pair of $1 million prizes in R.J. Reynolds' "No Bull 5" program, Jarrett would claim one, too, and he out-dueled Gordon to get it in the Winston 500 at Talladega in early October.

So, once again, for the third straight year, Jarrett will take his place on stage in New York at the post-season awards festivities. And once again, he'll watch, as his rival will take the top award. But then, that just fuels the fire even more and gives him that much more motivation for 1999. "We just got to get that much better," Jarrett said. "We're all dedicated to do that. I think when 1999 starts, you're going to see this team back up front again and challenging those guys. We know where they put the bar and we're going to work hard to get there."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Mark Martin