In Victory Lane, Jarrett comes full circle Repeat at site of 1st win confirms red-hot status

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

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Five years and one day after getting his first career victory at Michigan International Raceway, Dale Jarrett won here again.

This time, the victory is just the latest for the hottest driver on the Winston Cup circuit.

"That victory in 1991 launched a career," he said shortly after his Ford beat Mark Martin's to the finish line by .168 of a second to win the GM Goodwrench 400. "I'll always be appreciative of that victory. I was so excited just to win a Winston Cup race, I didn't know what to do in Victory Lane.

"Now, this is a tremendous feeling in a different way. This victory continues a terrific year -- we can't mess up if we wanted to."

It was Martin who had dominated this day under the bright sun and intense gaze of 130,000 race fans. But with seven laps to go, Jarrett attempted a pass on the outside of turns three and four. He led by a nose at the start-finish line and finally put Martin behind him off turn two on lap 194.

With four laps remaining, Martin tried to reclaim the lead in turn four, but Jarrett wouldn't let him by on the inside. Trailing Martin across the finish line were Terry Labonte, Ernie Irvan and Jeff Gordon, respectively.

The third-place finish by Labonte strengthened his hold on first place to 134 in the Winston Cup points race. He leads Dale Earnhardt and Gordon, who are tied for second. Jarrett remains fourth, three points behind them.

It was Jarrett's fourth victory of the season, his second in two weeks and his fifth top-five finish in the last six races. His four victories this season, which include the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Brickyard 400, double his previous career total, giving him eight.

"I'm not very good at nicknames," said defending Winston Cup champion Gordon. "But the guy is so calm out there, I think we should call him 'Mr. Cool.' "

Gordon could have added calculating to his description because that's what Jarrett and his crew chief Todd Parrott were doing for the first 386 miles of this 400-miler.

"I learned early that my car wasn't very good on restarts, but that after 15 laps I had the best handling car out there," Jarrett said. "And toward the end, I saw if I kept my tires clean during the cautions, and if the cautions weren't too long, I could get a better start."

He was able to take advantage of those observations, because on lap 98 Parrott decided to take a little time in the pits for a four-tire change when nearly everyone else took two.

"That was key," said Jarrett, "because at the end, when I noticed Ernie gaining on me and saw that he was taking a higher line, I needed the good tread on those tires to go around the outside."

All of that spelled an excruciating defeat for Martin.

"Well, we gave it all we had," said Martin, who hasn't won since last October in Charlotte, N.C., 24 races ago. "Shoot, they were just good there, the 88 car [Jarrett's car] was. I was hoping there would keep being cautions [the last of eight came with 13 laps left], because I could hold 'em off for about three laps. That's what it looked like I had, about three or four laps while the cars were cold. But he was just strong."

Martin said he managed to stay in front for 135 of the 200 laps run, but he didn't think he had the dominant car.

"There were some other cars that were faster than us," said Martin, who now has five straight top-10 finishes. "With pit strategy we kept it up front, but we just didn't have it at the end."

In the end, it was Jarrett who had it -- as he has had it much of this season.

Asked why his team is dominating, he laughed and said, "Superior talent -- no, no. I'm kidding."

But the other teams in the garage may be wondering just how much of a joke that is.

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