`Matured' Jarrett, team near points title

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

September 19, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

While drivers are scrambling all around him, Dale Jarrett, 42, remains the self-possessed leader of the Winston Cup points race.

The rest of the field is trying to claw its way into contention and at the same time retain equilibrium in this crazy time known as "The Silly Season," when drivers jump from team to team for next year's run at the championship.

There has been a driver change on the Yates team, too. But it involves only his teammate's car, not Jarrett. Beginning next season, veteran Ricky Rudd will be driving the second Robert Yates-owned car now driven by Kenny Irwin.

And, while Jarrett's lead has been whittled, he still is in command with a 270-point advantage over Mark Martin going into today's race in Loudon, N.H.

This is not a fluke.

Yates said Jarrett remains calm under pressure, and "one of his best deals is that he feels the car out, knows what it needs -- and he can wear it out when he has to."

Jarrett's father, Ned, Winston Cup points champion in 1961 and 1965, added that his son and the Yates' race team have matured.

"I've felt as a driver that Dale could get the job done," Ned said. "I've seen him grow in the job, and while he has always been somewhat patient, I'd say patience has become his greatest virtue.

"I think he's paid his dues, and certainly Robert Yates deserves it. That team is the best it has ever been. You see what Jeff Gordon's team has done for him. Well, these days it is working the same way between Dale and his team."

Gordon has won three Winston Cup titles, and though many compliment his driving talent, he and others say crew chief Ray Evernham and the work of his pit crew, the Rainbow Warriors, have helped immeasurably.

Yates has worked for a championship team, creating the engines that in 1983 carried Bobby Allison to his only title. He's also had a lot of near misses.

For a while in 1992, it looked like his driver, Davey Allison, would win the title, but independent Alan Kulwicki came out of the pack to win. And in 1994, Yates seemed to have Ernie Irvan poised for the championship, only to see him suffer severe head injuries in a horrible crash at Michigan International Raceway.

"I've been in second place so many times and won so few," said Yates. "But listening to my guys this year, their optimism is catching. And Doug Yates [Robert's son and head engine builder] has shown me we can be more aggressive without going over the edge or falling off of it. Doug's worked hard. We're communicating. And my heart rate's down."

And Dale Jarrett and his crew chief, Todd Parrott, have their own chemistry. You might think they were born to win a Winston Cup title, given their fathers' legacies. Parrott's dad, Buddy, was a successful crew chief before becoming team manager for the Jack Rousch teams of Jeff Burton and Mark Martin.

But Ned Jarrett tries to keep his and his son's enthusiasm in line. If Dale were to win this championship, he and his dad would become only the second father and son to win the Winston Cup title, joining Lee and Richard Petty.

But they are of the old school.

"I tell Dale, `Never count those chickens,' " Ned said. "But it is nice to be in the mode they're in as a team and in the position they're in in the points. I really do think they're ready to win the title."

It is definitely getting harder for the dad to keep the chickens in the coop.

Amazed, or not?

Rookie Tony Stewart won his first Winston Cup race eight days ago at Richmond, Va., and emerged from his race car saying, "It's unbelievable. I would have never dreamed. To do it in my rookie season just amazes me."

Why? Just a month or so ago at Pocono International Raceway, Stewart talked at length about how his whole life has been directed toward being a successful race car driver.

As an Indy Racing League sophomore in 1997, he won the IRL title. In the Winston Cup series, he drives for Joe Gibbs, one of the sport's best car owners. Stewart has talent and the resources. He came close to winning his first race at least two, perhaps three, previous times.

So why should he be amazed? Most fans weren't. Heck, he might even win again today.

Nuts and bolts

Females interested in automotive maintenance and service careers are invited to Maryland International Raceway in Budds Creek on Oct. 2 for a free career day in connection with the International Hot Rod Association's President Cup Nationals.

IHRA drag racer Malinda Bertozzi will talk about her experience, explain her recommendation of maintenance and service as a good way for women to make a living, and talk about opportunities, training options and credentialing. Reservations are required. Call 419-734-5343.

The NHRA Keystone Nationals conclude today at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to lead the Busch Grand National points chase, as he tries for back-to-back titles Both reserved and general admission tickets remain available for the MBNA Gold 200 Busch Series event at Dover, Del., Saturday, and limited seating (temporary bleachers on the back straight) is available for Sunday. Call 800-441-7223.

Willy T. Ribbs, the only African-American to race in the Indy 500, is returning to Indy car racing next weekend. He'll drive for McCormack Motorsports on Saturday at the Vegas.com 500 Indy Racing League event. The deal is expected to extend into 2000 and possibly beyond.

Road America has announced the return of the "Road America 500" professional sports car weekend, July 7-9. The 500 will be Round 7 of the inaugural eight-race season of the Grand American Road Racing Association, a new road-racing series being developed by NASCAR president Bill France and members of his family.

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