Jarrett's Michigan dominance will be challenged By Marty Smith BROOKLYN, Mich. (June 8, 2000) Rarely does a driver dominate a NASCAR Winston Cup Series event in the manner that Dale Jarrett dominated the Kmart 400 last season at Michigan...
Jarrett's Michigan dominance will be challenged
By Marty Smith
BROOKLYN, Mich. (June 8, 2000) Rarely does a driver dominate a NASCAR Winston Cup Series event in the manner that Dale Jarrett dominated the Kmart 400 last season at Michigan Speedway. Nine-second advantages over the entire field just don't happen.
"Jarrett pretty much obliterated the field last year in the spring race," said Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac and the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year.
Did he ever. Jarrett ran away with the caution-free affair, leading 150 of the 200 laps en route to the second victory of his first championship season. He'll look to do the same when the 2000 edition of the Kmart 400 at Michigan goes green at 1 p.m. ET Sunday (CBS TV, MRN Radio). That task won't be easy, however, as several drivers have equaled Jarrett's mastery of the two-mile oval.
Bobby Labonte has enjoyed his share of success at Michigan, having won three races there -- including a sweep of both events in 1995. Labonte currently rests on the top-rung of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series points ladder, 82 points ahead of second-place Ward Burton. He may well extend that advantage this weekend, as Michigan is his favorite venue.
"I made my second career start here in the fall event back in 1991 and really since then it has been one of my favorites," said Labonte, driver of Joe Gibbs' No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac. "Over the years I have had some good runs here. I just feel really comfortable in the car here."
Over the past three seasons, Labonte has averaged a seventh-place finish in the spring event at Michigan. Couple that success with the second-place run he posted at Charlotte and the third-place outing last week at Dover, and he's right on pace for a trip to Victory Lane.
"People always ask me what my favorite track is and why," Labonte said. "I know that it's Michigan, but when they ask why, I never really know what to tell them. I just have a feeling of confidence that we are going to unload on Friday and be good and even if we are a little off, we never panic.
"We go about our changes in the set-up and it's like we know we are going to end up OK. At least that's how it has been. I hope this weekend is the same and we can keep the momentum going."
Jeff Gordon hopes to continue his Michigan momentum as well. Gordon sports an astounding average finish of 4.5 here, compared to 10.13 for the next-closest driver. Overall, he has one victory, 11 top-5's and 12 top-10's, and has completed 99.9 percent of those laps.
Gordon also set the Kmart 400 qualifying record on June 11, 1999 after rounding the two-mile oval at 186.945 mph in 38.514 seconds. Ward Burton's 188.843-mph lap in last season's Pepsi 400 is the overall track qualifying record.
"Michigan is definitely a good track for us," Gordon said. "We've always run well and finished well here and we look forward to Sunday's race. We're fairly confident and feel pretty good about Michigan but until we see what we've got here, we won't know what we'll need to do."
One thing he'll likely need to do is fend off the furious season-long charge of rookies Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. Both youngsters have already gone to Victory Lane, Junior twice, and both ranks among the top-15 in the points.
Both have experienced past success at Michigan as well. Junior won the NASCAR Busch Series affair here last year, leading the most laps along the way. As for Kenseth, he made his NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut in the fall event at Michigan last season, scoring a 14th-place finish. Further bolstering his chances are the car he'll drive this weekend, it's the same one he piloted to third-place finish at California earlier this year.
"I look forward to racing at Michigan because that is where we had our first start with the No. 17 DeWalt Ford Taurus and Roush Racing," Kenseth said. "We ran pretty good there for our first Winston Cup race together. It's one of my better tracks, it's similar to California and we had a real strong run at California this year. We're taking the same car, so I hope we can have an equal performance this weekend."
So does Jarrett. And Labonte. And Gordon.
Bud Pole Qualifying for the Kmart 400 gets under way Friday at 3:30 p.m.