Jarrett captures second Daytona Earnhardt runs 0.12 behind, settles for 4th 2nd-place finish

February 19, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Jarrett kept looking behind him, and the sight he saw made him cringe. The man in black, Dale Earnhardt, was on his bumper, looking for a way to victory in the 38th Daytona 500.

"I'd rather see anyone other than Earnhardt," said Jarrett. "Knowing his history, knowing how much he wants to win this race and not knowing what he was going to do -- or where he was going to do it -- it was nerve-racking."

There were 23 laps to go when Jarrett used a little push from Wally Dallenbach to pass Earnhardt for the lead. Twenty-three laps that seemed to take forever.

"When I beat him here in 1993, it was a lot different," Jarrett said. "In that race, I didn't pass him until Turn 1 of the last lap. That day, all I had to do was hold him off in Turns 3 and 4.

"This time, I had the toughest guy in the business behind me, and every single lap I knew he was thinking of a way to pass me. Today, I wasn't a better driver than Earnhardt. I just had a better car. I had a Robert Yates engine and he didn't."

And so for the second time in four years, Jarrett beat Earnhardt to the finish of the Daytona 500. Beat him by .12 of a second at an average speed of 154.308 mph. Beat him with a brand new team that hadn't even practiced pit stops.

And Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion, is 0-for-18 in the Daytona 500, where he has four second-place finishes -- in 1984, 1993, 1995 and 1996, the last three by a combined margin of .89 of a second.

For a long time yesterday, it appeared this was shaping up to be Earnhardt's race, as almost everyone who was stronger disappeared from contention.

Sterling Marlin's bid for a three-peat ended on Lap 75. Ernie Irvan's bid for his first Winston Cup victory since returning from severe head injuries ended on Lap 28. Jeff Gordon wrecked. Terry Labonte's carburetor misfired. John Andretti got a bad tire, lost a lap and got wrecked.

Only Jarrett stayed around.

"It's the Daytona 500," said Earnhardt, "We just didn't have enough for them. It was a super race and Dale and his guys did a good job, I reckon."

Earnhardt's guys did a good job early. On Lap 27, Earnhardt developed ignition problems and it was those problems that caused his car to lose its speed in Turn 4 and put Irvan in difficulty.

"[Earnhardt's car owner Richard] Childress said Earnhardt's ignition went out," said Irvan, who finished 35th. "I know something happened off 4. I thought he pushed real bad and I came up on him and I lifted [from the gas], and then it looked like, 'OK, now he's going again,' and then, right at the start-finish line, it was like he shut the switch off.

"I hit him and then [Wally Dallenbach] hit me from behind. Oh, well. You've got to worry about things you can change. It's not like there's anything you can do, you know."

When the caution came out, Earnhardt went to the pits and the crew changed his ignition box. He came out in 16th place, but nine laps later had worked his way back toward the front.

The circumstance Earnhardt couldn't overcome came with 40 laps to go. That's when his crew seemed to make Jarrett's job easier when it decided to put only two new tires on his Chevrolet, while Jarrett's team changed all four on its Ford.

By the time the race got down to that final lap, Earnhardt was fighting to keep the car low and his only hope was that Kenny Schrader, running third in a Chevrolet, would elect to follow his lead and create a power boost that would push them both past Jarrett.

But Schrader wasn't interested.

"I don't think we could have gotten round [Jarrett]," said Schrader, who finished third. "I moseyed down with him a little, but he didn't have anything for Jarrett. Jarrett was really fast. And it's not my responsibility to worry about where Dale Earnhardt finishes."

Childress was philosophical. "When it gets down to winning the Daytona 500, you don't have any buddies out there," he said.

In victory lane, Jarrett's team collected $362,775 and dealt with victory. There was a lot to celebrate.

Last season, while driving for Robert Yates and caretaking Irvan's ride, Jarrett took all the blame for the team's year-long struggles.

"He shouldered it all without complaint," said Yates. "He protected me and [crew chief Larry McReynolds], and he earned our respect and gratitude."

So when the Ford Motor Co. finally persuaded Yates to field a second team, he signed Jarrett to drive. And then Yates called Todd Parrott, son of longtime Winston Cup crew chief Buddy Parrott, who 20 years ago won his first race crewing for the 88 car, the same car Yates now fields for Jarrett.

Yesterday, Todd Parrott got his first victory as a crew chief.

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