Jarrett Ends 14-Race Winless Streak
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ With both Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon having problems, it was a good night for Dale Jarrett to stay out of trouble, finish high and pick up some points.
But when crew chief Todd Parrott sent him out with 56 laps to go with a hooked-up machine, Jarrett did more than that. He came on strong to end a 14-race winless streak Saturday night and assume the points lead in the Winston Cup series.
``That was the best the car had been, obviously,″ Jarrett said of the way his Ford ran in the latter stages of the Pontiac 400 at Richmond International Raceway. ``I couldn’t have told them anything on that last round of pit stops to make it any better.″
Jarrett passed Mark Martin with 32 laps to go and won the race that featured tire problems for many and the early exits of the two Jeffs from contention. Both had mechanical problems that never ended.
The victory gave Jarrett a 118-point swing in the title race, moving him from 55 points behind Burton to 63 points in front, and earned him a $60,000 bonus for winning the race and taking over the series lead.
``Everybody kept saying, `When are you going to win? When are you going to win?‴ Jarrett said. ``We were just biding our time.
``I don’t know that a lot of people expected us to pull it out after starting 21st. But the other race we won here, we started 23rd, so maybe that’s a key for us.″
The victory was Jarrett’s first in 15 races dating to last season and second at Richmond, where he won in 1997. It was the 19th of his career.
``We didn’t want to be a champion without a victory, and now we’ve got that,″ he said. ``Now we’re going to go after this championship.″
Burton went from leading after 240 laps to being 38 laps down just 40 laps later because of transmission trouble. He finished 37th.
``When you’re running well and you think you have a chance to win, there’s no question that it makes it harder,″ Burton said. ``Everybody has nights that don’t go like you want them to, and we had ours tonight.″
Gordon, the two-time defending series champion and record-setting pole-sitter, nursed an ill-handling car all night and finished 31st.
Martin, who had won the Hardee’s 250 Busch Grand National race about 22 hours earlier, finished second and Bobby Labonte was third, his first top-five finish in 47 career short-track races on the Winston Cup circuit.
``I was kind of expecting anything to happen because I usually wreck here,″ Labonte said. ``This is my first top-five on a short track, so I can’t be down finishing third. I think we made a little step here tonight.″
The bizarre night scrambled the points race, with Labonte now trailing Jarrett by 109 points. Martin trails by 155 points, and tree-time champion Gordon is 250 back.
It also avenged a tough loss in this race a year ago, when Terry Labonte nudged Jarrett in the fourth turn with two laps left and went on to win.
This race was slowed eight times for 58 laps by cautions. Jarrett, who only led once, was the ninth leader and won with an average speed of 100.102 mph.
Bobby Hamilton was fourth, Rusty Wallace fifth.
Dale Earnhardt, who started 37th after posting the 43rd-fastest qualifying time in afternoon time trials, finished eighth.
Defending champion Terry Labonte finished 26th as one of several drivers who had tire trouble. He had to pit under a green flag for new rubber.
Most of the tire trouble affected the right front of the cars, but Goodyear spokesman Wayne Torrance said during the race the tire was the same one that has been used at RIR for previous races and he did not know what the problem was.
Martin said the track’s sealer was gripping so well that cars that weren’t set up exactly right were causing tires to wear and blow out.
``I didn’t want to be a victim tonight at any cost, so we made sure that we did the best we could with that and let it all hang out at the end,″ Martin said. ``We just weren’t good enough to beat the 88.″