Jarrett makes amends with Brickyard victory

Victor takes control after blowing '98 shot

August 08, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dale Jarrett hugged his wife so tightly, it took her breath away. He hugged his crew chief so tightly, it brought tears to his eyes.

For Jarrett, the celebration after winning the Brickyard 400 was one of redemption.

A year ago, Jarrett had had the swiftest Winston Cup race car in the Brickyard 400. But he didn't have the maturity to handle it. Instead of looking at the big picture -- collecting his second Indy win and challenging Jeff Gordon for the year-end points title -- all he saw was a $10,000 bonus for leading at the halfway mark.

The short-sightedness cost him big time. His car ran out of gas before crossing the start-finish line on lap 80 of the 160-lap race, and he lost four laps by the time he coasted into his pits.

The mistake was magnified, when he combined his skillful driving with his powerful car to make up those four laps and finish 16th, on the lead lap with last year's winner, Jeff Gordon.

"We all felt so bad, we couldn't even make a fuel joke for six months," said car owner Robert Yates.

Yesterday, things were very different.

Jarrett took no chances. He did lead at halfway, to collect this year's Brickyard bonus, but he also made sure he had enough fuel to get there. And the fuel, combined with another powerful Yates engine made a mockery of his competition.

The Winston Cup points leader won by 3.351 seconds, crossing the finish line a good 300 yards ahead of Bobby Labonte.

He averaged 148.228 mph and collected $712,240.

"Winning this race was hard work," said Jarrett, who also won here in 1996.

This is Jarrett's fourth win this season and ties him for most this year with Gordon, who finished third, and Jeff Burton, who finished fifth.

The win also allowed him to increase his Winston Cup points lead by 10. Jarrett now leads Mark Martin by 274 with 14 races to go. And it drove home just how powerful Jarrett's team has become.

His wins at the Michigan 400 in June and the Pepsi 400 last month were just as dominating.

"DJ had us all covered, really, all weekend except qualifying," said Gordon, who started on the pole. "Even in practice, I knew he was going to be the guy to beat. That team has it all together now. They're really clicking."

It looked as if this Brickyard might be a good race in the early laps. Gordon, Martin, who finished fourth, and Jarrett exchanged the lead a number of times within single laps.

But while many cars tightened up and tires went away, Jarrett's car just kept getting better.

Labonte, who followed him around in second place for more than 60 laps, looked like the only car with a chance at him near the end, but even while Jarrett was eyeing him cautiously in his rear-view mirror, Labonte's engine developed a miss, which would make him happy just to finish second.

"But after last year, even when things are going well, you wonder what could go wrong," Jarrett said.

It didn't really ease his mind that crew chief Todd Parrott told him he had enough fuel. And when the caution came out with 17 laps to go, wiping out his lead, he couldn't help a little nervousness.

The race was Jarrett's to win or lose -- again.

This time, of course, everything would turn out right for him. He pitted for two tires, a splash of gas, and was back on his way, pulling away with ease.

But when the caution came out, many things rumbled through his mind and the minds of his teammates.

Parrott thought about the pluses that would come from putting four tires on the No. 88 Ford. But over in Turn 1, Jarrett's dad, Ned, checked in.

"I just reminded them that there were only 17 laps or so to go and that two tires would probably do the job and still get them out of the pits in the lead," said Ned, a retired two-time Winston Cup champion who now does color commentary for CBS.

And through it all, Dale Jarrett's mind was churning up what seemed a million memories from old Indy races he had watched.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he knew, could take its toll on obvious winners. He'd seen Mario Andretti leading the Indy 500 too many times to count only to lose when his car broke down. He saw the 1995 Indy 500 when Scott Goodyear had the it won, only to lose his cool and pass a pace car on a restart and lose.

And even this past May, Jarrett had seen Arie Luyendyk cruise into the lead after the halfway point and lose his chance at victory by inexplicably running into the back of someone named Tyce Carlson.

"And I'd already blown this race once," Jarrett said. "I didn't want to do it again. So when that caution came out, I thought, `Here we go again.'

"My biggest fear was that I'd turn down pit road and none of those other guys would come with me."

He needn't have worried. His competition, what there was of it, was happy to give their cars some fuel. And several of them -- including Labonte and Gordon -- were ecstatic over getting new tires.

But neither more fuel nor new tires helped anyone against Jarrett in this 400.

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