Gibbs experiences race of lifetime on second try In Daytona 500, driver calls audible

February 16, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Some Winston Cup car owners see their teams race a lifetime without winning the Daytona 500.

Daytona is the crown jewel, the Super Bowl and the most elusive victory on the NASCAR circuit.

So when Dale Jarrett completed a last-lap pass of Dale Earnhardt on Sunday in the 35th Daytona 500, it was more than just an exciting win.

"When I started this thing, I don't think I realized how hard it is to win a race, let alone Daytona," said Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who owns Jarrett's team. "I'd say I've learned. Last year, I kept getting these calls, and I'd hear myself saying, 'We cracked a what? We did what?' So many things can happen to your race team, it was unimaginable."

The imagination took flight Sunday. Jarrett, the driver whose father, Ned, won 50 NASCAR races but never the Daytona 500, won on his fifth try. And Gibbs, the football coach who started his own race team last season, won on his second.

Meanwhile, longtime car owners such as Richard Childress (24 years), Junie Donlavey (34 years) and Butch Mock (16 years) never have won Daytona, despite having Dale Earnhardt, Ernie Irvan and Neil Bonnett driving their cars.

"In football, I'm more responsible, but the thrill of winning the Super Bowl and of winning the Daytona 500 are exactly the same," said Gibbs. "I'm one of the most fortunate individuals in the world. I'm blessed."

Sunday, he didn't send in the play to Jarrett. Instead, he stood in the team's pit, his car out of sight on the backstretch with 1 1/2 laps to go.

"It was agony," Gibbs said. "It's like fourth-and-one on the goal line, but you can't make the call. Dale made it out of my sight, and, I tell you, it seemed like an eternity before he came around the front straight where we could see he was under Earnhardt."

Sunday's 500 was a perfect example of what makes stock car racing so popular. On ABC's "Nightline" on Friday, Richard Petty tried to tell a national television audience, many of whom probably never have seen a Winston Cup race, what makes his sport great.

Petty suggested the elements that blend to give stock car racing the best attendance in the country (based on average per event) are competition, emotion and people.

In this 500, the competition was intense, with 38 lead changes among 13 drivers.

The emotion was raw:

* The abject misery of Earnhardt, losing for the 15th time and for the fourth time while leading with fewer than 10 laps to go.

* The shock of watching Rusty Wallace's car flip and barrel roll down the backstretch, followed by the sense of relief when he climbed from the car with only a few cuts.

* The anger of the confrontation on the front stretch, where Kyle Petty climbed from his wrecked car to scream at driver Bobby Hillin, whose car had spun up onto the track in front of Petty and eliminated them both from contention. The scene intensified as Petty and Hillin went chest-to-chest and shoved each other in front of pit road.

And then there were the people. Petty might have said the families. Someone suggested putting this race in a time capsule for future generations to study.

There was Dale Jarrett, son of two-time Winston Cup champion Ned Jarrett, winning. Kyle Petty, son of seven-time champion Richard Petty, screaming. And Dale Earnhardt, son of former dirt track champion Ralph Earnhardt, suffering still another loss.

None of it was lost on Gibbs, who took the family affair even further.

"One thing I've noticed that I like very much in this sport is that your family can be with you here and be part of it," said Gibbs, whose 23-year-old son, J. D., works with the team and changed the left rear tire on pit stops Sunday. "In football, wives and children are in the stands or waiting outside the locker rooms or at home. They never really get to be part of it.

"But, here, they can come right into the garages with you. Pat [his wife], J. D. and Coy [his two sons] came right into victory lane with us, and it was a great experience."

Joe Gibbs, letting go a chuckle every now and again, couldn't stop smiling. He has three Super Bowl championships with the Redskins and a victory here at Daytona in only his second year.

The man who says he is blessed most obviously is.

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