Jarrett gets Daytona dream His week of omens ends with another super win for Gibbs

February 15, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs became the first person to win both the NFL Super Bowl and the Super Bowl of Winston Cup stock car racing yesterday, when his driver Dale Jarrett won the 35th Daytona 500.

It was an amazing performance by Jarrett and his Gibbs-owned team, which kept its cool when falling behind early and then passing this sport's toughest driver with one lap to go for the team's first victory.

With 150,000 fans standing and screaming, Jarrett drove to a two-car length victory over Dale Earnhardt while averaging 154.972 mph.

"Any time you beat Dale Earnhardt -- anywhere, any day -- you know you've had a day's work," said Jarrett, 36, who was celebrating his second career Winston Cup victory. "But to tell the truth, I had a feeling I was going to win last week. I'm not trying to sound arrogant or anything. It was just a feeling and I told my wife about it. And then when I got here there were a number of symbols that made me feel even more confident."

When Jarrett walked into the garages here last week, he discovered his car was in garage 11. He had had that same number at Michigan two years ago when he won his first race and again, two days later, in a Grand National race that he also won.

"And then Dad's car number used to be No. 11," said Jarrett, the son of two-time Winston Cup champion Ned Jarrett. "When I was a kid, I used to sit in the seat of his race car and dream. I must have been about 11 and I won every time."

And if those weren't enough omens, there was the incident with the change after the 125-mile qualifying race Thursday.

"As I was changing out of my uniform into my street clothes, some money fell out of the pockets," Jarrett said. "It was 11 cents."

No one here doubted Jarrett needed a little luck to be around for the finish of this race, but after the way he handled the pressure on the closing laps no one doubts his resolve at winning.

Last July, Jarrett was running third in the Firecracker 400. He had a chance to win but he didn't.

"Ernie Irvan was leading and Sterling Marlin was second and I kept trying to make a move on them I really wasn't able to make," Jarrett said. "I didn't realize then where they were fastest and where I was fastest. And that's what I came to realize today. I determined where my car was faster and where I could make a pass. You learn that through experience."

Last year, when he arrived here with the Gibbs team, it was the first time he'd had a car capable of running up front. He learned from the experience. So yesterday, when he was sitting third with three laps to go, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

He had seen Earnhardt get loose going into turn three and he closed tight on his bumper to disrupt the air flow even more. And when Earnhardt wobbled high, out of the groove, Jarrett drove his car low.

It was a place he had not been often yesterday. Most of the time, Jarrett, as Gibbs pointed out, took the higher route. However, what no one but Jarrett knew was that his car worked well low. He was simply staying high to prevent tire wear.

"Jarrett had the strongest car out there," said Earnhardt, who finished second and failed to win for the 15th time here. "He could draft from far back real easy. I was hoping he couldn't get past [Geoff] Bodine and [Jeff] Gordon and some of those other guys. But he got under me and there just wasn't anything I could do with him. I never thought I had the race won. I've learned over and over again here that it's not won until you get the checkered flag."

Besides having the strongest car, he also had the only car owned by an NFL football coach and partially sponsored by NFL Properties.

Another quirky thing about this team is the way Dallas and the NFL champion Cowboys keep coming up.

Two men who helped Gibbs put this team together are Jimmy Johnson and Don Meredith -- but not the Dallas coach and former quarterback. It is also sponsored by Interstate Batteries, based in Dallas, and Shell Oil, based in Houston. And the contracted commitment Gibbs has with the NFL is that his team will wear the helmet logo of a different NFL team in every race.

"The deal I made for this season was that we'd wear the Super Bowl champion logo in our first race," Gibbs said, with a throat-catching giggle. "I had no idea it wouldn't be the Redskins. But a deal is a deal and we used the Dallas helmet. But let me tell you, that helmet disappeared pretty quick in victory lane."

By the time Jarrett was coming out of the fourth turn on the last lap -- "Not far from the finish line at all" -- he knew he had this race. He knew his Interstate Batteries Chevrolet had the power, and finally, after carefully learning a number of racing lessons last season, he knew he had the ability to win.

But in the pits, as Gibbs and crew chief Jimmy Makar listened to nothing but silence on the two-way radio, they had no idea that Jarrett was about to bring home this victory.

"I thought I'd come into this sport and back up and enjoy it," said Gibbs. "But that's not how it works. You're so close and it's so pervasive, you're in contortions in the pits and you can't do anything about it.

"I was shocked when Dale went low. Heck, he'd been going high all day."

Gibbs, whose new stock car team struggled through its first season in 1992, was asked how this compared to winning the Super Bowl.

"In football, I'm a little more responsible, but the thrill is exactly the same," he said. "But I can't take much of the credit for this one. I was just praying on the sidelines.

"I hired Dale and Jimmy Makar, and that was about it. Jimmy hired everybody else and those guys have done all the work to earn this."

Five with drive

The first five finishers in the Daytona 500:

Driver .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Car

1. Dale Jarrett .. .. .. .. Chevrolet

2. Dale Earnhardt ... .. .. Chevrolet

3. Geoff Bodine .. .. .. .. Ford

4. Hut Stricklin . .. .. .. Ford

5. Jeff Gordon ... .. .. .. Chevrolet

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