Pontiac Excitement 400 Saturday notebook By Dave Rodman RICHMOND, Va. (May 15, 1999) Notes and quotes following Saturday night's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway: If Dale Jarrett is able to...
Pontiac Excitement 400 Saturday notebook By Dave Rodman
RICHMOND, Va. (May 15, 1999) Notes and quotes following Saturday night's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway:
If Dale Jarrett is able to win his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in 1999, he may be able to look back at a mild May night in Richmond as the impetus to that landmark accomplishment. The Hickory, N.C., driver took the point lead away from home-state favorite Jeff Burton by winning the Pontiac Excitement 400, coupled with problems that knocked Burton to 37th despite leading the most laps. "We didn't want to be a champion without a victory and now we don't have to worry about that," Jarrett said after unofficially taking the lead by 63 points. "I think we're in the best shape of the four years that I've been here with Robert Yates Racing. We're where we want to be, atop the points and finishing in the top-5.
"I had always talked about the way Jeff Gordon won his championships and why his race team is so good. On days when they're not the best, they can make a top-5 and, at times, win. We've done that this year and it's very important."
Jarrett said the victory meant even more in terms of momentum heading into two weeks at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"These are the types of victories that bring momentum to a team," Jarrett said his 19th career win. "Back at the shop they're working day and night to prepare cars for Charlotte, but they can see us out here busting our tails to get into Victory Lane. Everyone can take a lot of pride and incentive from this."
Mark Martin wasn't too disappointed after he capped a stout weekend with a 2nd-place finish. "We were a contender and that's all you can ask for," Martin said. "I got the lead but I couldn't hold onto it. We gave it our best shot but we weren't good enough to beat the 88 at the end."
Jimmy Dean, famed country singer and more recently sausage purveyor and NASCAR Winston Cup Series team sponsor, was on hand at Richmond to celebrate his Jimmy Dean Foods company's 30th Anniversary. Dean, who resides in Richmond, shook hands and chatted with members of the Bahari' Racing team on Saturday afternoon. The man whose company is sponsor of the No. 30 Pontiac Grand Prix, chatted for several minutes with driver Derrike Cope.
"I remarked on his penmanship," Dean said. "I pointed to his signature above the driver door and told him his hand-writing was worse than mine. It's nice to know we have something in common. I like to visit with the team when they're here and thank them for all the hard work. It's not an easy job. Hey, maybe that can be the subject of a song in the future."
Dean and wife Donna have a song that is nominated for Virginia's new official state song. Unfortunately, Cope was taken out in an accident with Steve Park and finished 42nd.
Park had plenty of reason to be enthusiastic -- about his early-race performance, at least -- after he ran as high as fourth in the early going. He made the move into 4th by punting Gordon aside and appeared destined for a good finish until he made contact with Cope heading into Turn 3. "I told the crew this was the happiest I'd been all year," said Park, who was working with Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s former technical director Steve Hmiel in the crew chief role for the first time. "We moved from 17th to 3rd or 4th and things were great, then all of a sudden something went wrong.
"I thought we could get to the front, but then we cut a tire and got into the 30 car (Cope) and that's what caused us to wreck. I apologize to the 30 car, but it was something I couldn't prevent."
"I think we've kind of turned the corner," said Park, who finished 34th. "With Steve Hmiel aboard, everybody saw how we ran tonight."
Michael Waltrip was involved in the only wreck leading up to the Pontiac Excitement 400, when he crashed his Philips Electronics Chevrolet in Turn 2 during Bud Pole Qualifying. Three other practice sessions had no incidents. Waltrip was forced to take a provisional and started 38th, but soldiered into 22nd at the finish, two laps down, and unofficially dropped one spot in the points, to 14th.
Gordon's 200th start was fairly undistinguished, after a strange encounter with Geoffrey Bodine coming to a restart. It knocked him ultimately 12 laps off the pace and in 31st. "When they gave the one to go, I was coming up through there and guys were swerving back and forth," Gordon said. "I got all the way down to the apron and Geoff Bodine drove right into the side of me. That's what really ruined our night."
The flyover during the rendition of the national anthem Saturday evening was provided by the Air National Guard's 119th Fighter Wing from Fargo, N.D. This F-16 unit, the "HAPPY HOOLIGANS," is currently sitting on alert status at Langley Air Force Base, Va. The detachment unit commander and flight lead in the flyover was Major Mike Connor. The F-16 can fly up to 50,000 feet at twice the speed of sound, but the pair of airplanes went over the race track at 1,000 feet, thrilling the capacity crowd.
A broken transmission finally ended Burton's run atop the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings. Burton led race high 104 laps, but still only finished 37th. "You're gonna have nights like that -- everybody has them, not just us," Burton said. "You have to limit the nights you have like that and, hopefully, this will be one of the last ones we have this year."
Source: NASCAR Online