The Callahan Report: Jarrett Becoming a Short Track Master
7 September 1997RICHMOND, VA: So much for statistics. Until two weeks ago, Dale Jarrett had won eleven NASCAR racing events. All of those wins came on superspeedways. Jarrett won at a short track (Bristol, TN) two weeks ago for the first time. A betting man might have guessed it would be a while before Jarrett saw his next short track win. That betting man would be broke. Dale Jarrett won on another short track tonight. He came home first in the Winston Cup Exide Select Batteries 400 at Richmond International Speedway.
An exhausted Jarrett said, "Two short track wins in a row, that's pretty awesome. We've come close. We just couldn't pull it off until these last two."
Jarrett overcame a middle of the pack starting spot to win at Richmond. He started from 23rd and moved to the top ten early. It was a tough battle trying to gain spots for the next three hundred laps. Jarrett took the lead with 39 laps remaining in the 400 lap event.
The race was fast and nearly caution free. There were three yellow flags for a total of sixteen laps. The long periods of green flag racing played into the hands of Jarrett and the Robert Yates Racing Team. "We knew earlier today that it would be pretty good on long runs," said Jarrett. "It got to be a handful there at the end, but we were just good enough to beat Jeff Burton. It was awesome."
Indeed it was "awesome", considering Jeff Burton was clearly the fastest all night. That is, until the last round of pit stops. "We have figured out how to go real fast, but we haven't figured out how to win it," Burton commented. "We can go fast the whole race except for the last run. We did it last night (referring to the BGN race) and we did it tonight ... We're learning something, we're just not real sure what."
It looked as though Burton was going to do his Rusty Wallace impression. In the spring race, Wallace spun early and came back to win. Burton dropped to 40th position after a spin early in tonight's race. The driver of the Exide Batteries car flew through the field. Before the lap counter hit three digits (lap 98), Burton took the lead convincingly. He led a total of 234 laps. The bonus points for leading the most laps helped Burton move into fourth in the Winston Cup Championship race.
Jeff Gordon showed why he is the Winston Cup points leader. Gordon drove his ill handling car to a third place finish. Gordon continues to have good results with even with less than favorable conditions. An upbeat Gordon said, "We just didn't have anything for those guys up front. They really checked out."
Geoff Bodine had a good result by finishing fourth with his new team. Bodine started from the 31st spot. After finishing dead last this past weekend, Rusty Wallace brought the Penske South/Miller Lite Ford across the line in fifth.
The biggest surprise of the night was the performance of Rookie driver Kenny Irwin Jr. The 28 year old Indianapolis resident has thrilled short track crowds in the Midwest for the past several years. He showed the rest of the country why he has been signed to drive for Robert Yates Racing next season. Irwin qualified on the outside pole. He refused to fall back. Irwin battled and led the race in the early going. Irwin gained respect with a strong eighth place finish.
In the series points, Gordon lengthened his lead by 72 points over Mark Martin. The Valvoline driver lost his power steering with over 100 laps remaining in the race. The drive for the rest of the race physically drained Martin. At one point, Wally Dallenbach Jr. was waiting in the Valvoline pit to relieve Martin. Martin finished but dropped to 25th place before the checkered flag fell. Gordon has a 99 point lead on Martin. Third in the points is race winner, Jarrett, 143 behind Gordon. The points race is still a toss up with eight races remaining.
In the end, it was a night belonging to Dale Jarrett. The dedicated family man kept the tradition of winning at Richmond "in the family". His father, Ned Jarrett, won at Richmond 34 years earlier.