New England 300 Loudon, N.H. By Thomas Chemris Dale Jarrett showing he is becoming a short track specialist brought home victory at the New England 300. "Todd wanted me to become a road course specialist, but I told him we should figure...
New England 300
By Thomas Chemris
Dale Jarrett showing he is becoming a short track specialist brought home victory at the New England 300.
"Todd wanted me to become a road course specialist, but I told him we should figure these things out first", noted the race winner.
New Hampshire is a one-mile racetrack, but with only twelve degrees of banking in the corners, many teams compare it to Martinsville.
Jarrett driving the same car that he took to victory at the spring race at the Virginia track demonstrated the same late race dominance to win his fourth event of the season.
Coming into the event, Jarrett was tied for first with Jeff Gordon for the series championship.
The two remain mathematically tied, but according to the rules of the points system, Jarrett takes the lead by virtue of accumulating more wins.
Both Jarrett and Gordon were conservative in reviewing their status in the point's battle.
Three-time champion Jeff Gordon reflects, "Ive learned from winning championships that at this point in the season you have to be in striking distance."
Jarrett also takes home the Winston Leader bonus of $50,000 for winning a race while holding the number one position.
"It was a long tough day", noted Jarrett. " We had a great racecar from the beginning. We were able to work our way up. Todd made a slight change on the car from yesterday and it was the perfect thing."
"My car, of the three cars that were really the best all day, (Jeff Ricky and Myself), I could tell on every restart that mine was a little bit better. I could get hooked up a little bit quicker."
Jarrett who qualified ninth for the race had never won an event at the speedway.
The race began a pole sitter Jeff Gordon appeared to have the dominant car, leading early, and appearing to be able to move away from the field. "We had the track position that everyone wanted, which was out in front. This Chevrolet just drove like a dream out in front. We really didn't make any adjustment, we just lost some track position and could not get it back"
Holding the point was key to the race.
The speedway was essentially a one grove track, making passing extremely difficult.
Part of the problem was the lack of an outside grove due to the recent application of track sealer to the facility.
Most drivers welcomed the sealer, but were quick to express that it would take more than one race weekend to work it in.
"It gives the track a lot more grip, but it also made it hard to find them arks coming into the turns." Noted Jeff Gordon, who finished second behind Jarrett.
The key to Jarrett's victory was his ability to gain positions on restarts; combined with phenomenal work from the pits.
Jarrett's ability to gain positions on restarts was well demonstrated as
The event was marred by a total of ten-caution periods for a total of 53 laps.
The first of the cautions was brought out on lap 5, when Elliott Sadler and Joe Nemechek got together in turn one. Both cars spent extensive time behind the wall, but returned in the later portion of the race.
Just after the caution, Rusty Wallace headed to the garage with a blown motor.
"I do not know what is was, but it seized up real bad coming off two." Stated a frustrated Wallace who dropped two positions in the point standings from fourth to sixth.
The second caution came out on lap 61, as Johnny Benson was involved in a single car incident in turn one.
The field used this opportunity to make the first round of pit stops.
Sterling Marlin was the only lead lap car to remain out an extra to claim five bonus points and making the first of 8 lead changes among eleven drivers
Ricky Rudd became the next driver to take the point as passed Gordon on Lap 63.
The event became a game of follow the leader as several more cautions periods came out for various incidents involving Jeremy Mayfield, Dave Blaney, and Ward Burton, all of whom were involved in single car contact with the wall.
The Hardest hit of the day goes to Ron Hornaday who on lap 240 made contact with Stacy Compton on the backstretch and nearly flipped before making a sharp turn across the track.
Also taking a tough lick was Elliott Sadler who crashed for a second time on lap 281.
Sadler needed assistance from the car, and was seen at the infield care center and released.
Blaney, Mayfield, and Benson all lost right front tires. No other drivers reported unusual tire were, but many complained about excessive rubber build up on the track.
"We checked the track after the Busch North Race and it did not seem that bad, nothing like it was for us, I think it may have been the bias ply tires, but the rubber looked like it was working in." Noted third place finisher, Ricky Rudd.
Rudd, who has previously won a race at the speedway, was frustrated by the amount of cautions.
"We just were not very good on restarts. It took us two three, four laps to get going. We didn't need those Yellow flags out here." Rudd who takes his third place finish in stride commented further. "If I let it bother me, I probably would not have been racing for twenty six years because this is not the first time we have had a race slip away from us, but there is absolutely nothing we can do about controlling the cautions."
Rudd remains third in the overall point standings.
Rudd, who led a total of 62 laps fell victim to his teammate on lap 297, when after restarting form incident between Jerry Nadeau and Jimmy Spencer, Rudd's team mate was able to get underneath in turn four.
The two-traded paint along the front stretch with Jarrett getting the advantage into turn one, to take the lead.
The contact between the team drivers appeared to be over aggressive racing, but Rudd set the record straight. "If you go back and look at the tape, you will probably see I caused the Bump."
Rudd was then passed by Jeff Gordon and regulated to his final finishing spot of third.
The dominance shown by the Yates Teammates may be a prelude to the series championship as the top three drivers in the event also occupy the top three spots in the point's race separated by 28 points.
Jimmy Spencer and Tony Stewart Rounded out the top five.
Other driver who led laps included Rookies Casey Atwood, and Kevin Harvick, as well as Steve Park and Jeff Burton.
Drivers who gave stellar performances included Mike Wallace who finished tenth, and
John Andretti appeared to have a season best in hand until a late race penalty on pit road placed him a lap down.
The Petty Enterprises driver ran in the top ten all day but was regulated back to twenty third after being summoned and held in the pits by the NASCAR officials.
Petty exited the pit road on his final stop behind Ward Burtton just as the caution came out.
NASCAR indicated that they signaled Petty to stop, but Petty claims he never saw the signal.
The race marked the thirteenth time the series has visited New Hampshire.
Known as the magic Mile, New Hampshire International Speedway has hosted the NASCAR Winston Cup series since 1993 with Rusty Wallace as the inaugural winner.
The 1.058 is always a series sellout, and is the only Winston Cup event in New England.
The race also marked NASCAR reconsidering it's requirement that restrictor plates be used at the facility.
Restrictor plates were utilized in the fall race in 2000 as a response to safety concerns at the speedway after the untimely deaths of Adam Petty, and Kenny Irwin.
"The way I looked at it last year was that after we got going I pretty much figured out that I was driving so far down in the corner, I was probably carrying more speed than I ever did in that part of the corner." Stated current series Champion Bobby Labonte.
Drivers do not seem to feel that the track contributed to the accidents.
Labonte continues, "I know there is a lot of speciation that the throttles hung. I was behind Kenny, and the car never slowed down."
Jarrett dedicated the victory to the two fallen drivers.
The time of the race was three hours, six minutes and twenty-eight second, with an average speed of 102.131 MPH. Well off the pace set by Jeff Burton set in July of 1997 with an average speed of 117.34.
Kevin Harvick was the highest finishing rookie, coming ninth, fresh off his BGN win at Gateway.
Jeff Gordon received the five-point bonus for leading the most laps (126)
Next weekend the series heads to Pocono where Bobby Labonte is the defending race winner.