The Callahan Report: Gordon's Championship Run Will Open Door for Jarrett, Martin at Bristol
20 August 1998
By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
The door to victory lane should be open widest to Dale Jarrett. He is the defending champion of the Goody's Headache Powder 500. Jarrett was on his way to a win in the Spring race at Bristol when a late race "tap" from Terry Labonte snatched the win away. Jarrett has the short track figured out. No driver is hungrier for a victory. Jarrett has two wins in 98. He had seven wins by this time last year. He has been a solid performer with fifteen top-ten finishes so far this year. Bristol is Jarrett's track. With Gordon concentrating on the championship, Jarrett is the favorite for Bristol's checkered flag.
The win that was supposed to be Mark Martin's a week ago in Michigan didn't come. He will figure heavily into the mix at Bristol. He is not known as a master of the short tracks,` but he does well at Bristol. Martin qualified fifth and finished second here last year. With the disappointment of last weekend digging into his already intense desire to win, Martin will be hard to stop at Bristol. He has to "go for it" at every race if he hopes to catch Gordon in the championship hunt. Martin will be charging hard in his Valvoline Taurus in this weekend. The charge may land him in victory lane.
Jeff Burton has finally got things going his way. He will be a factor at Bristol. Burton finally got the monkey off his back at the Jiffy Lube 300 where he charged to victory. He had a solid run to fifth place last weekend in Michigan. Burton came from thirteenth to fourth here last year. Burton and the Exide Taurus will be hard to beat at every venue for the remainder of the season. Bristol could belong to the kid from Virginia Saturday night.
Rusty Wallace is long overdue for a win as well. He and the Penske South Miller Lite crew have always been strong at Bristol. He is popular with the overflow of fans at the hottest short track on the NASCAR circuit. Wallace won the race in 1996 and 1994. He was strong in the Spring race as well. Expect Wallace to be in front of most cars at the end of the race Saturday night. Wallace may be ready to be in front of all of them.
Gordon will be a favorite for the top-five for the rest of the season. Bristol will mark the beginning of the focused final run for the championship. Gordon could take the win if there are few risks involved. Gordon learned his lesson at Bristol in the Spring race when he went to the garage area after racing hard with Rusty Wallace. He won't put the championship on the line for a battle like that again. However, the skill combined with the luck of the DuPont racing team, may just put Gordon in victory lane for a record breaking fifth consecutive time.
Others to keep an eye on this weekend include Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt. Bristol requires knowledge, skill and experience. The two multi championship drivers know how to get around the traffic at Bristol. Waltrip has won the Fall event seven times. Earnhardt has won it three times. Don't be surprised when Waltrip and Earnhardt jump into the top five at the Goody's Headache Powder 500.
Bristol is one of those tracks where people spend good money for seats they never use. They buy a place to stand. Expect a standing salute to NASCAR again Saturday night as the sun goes down and the lights come on. Bristol is NASCAR Winston Cup racing at its finest. It is "back- to-the-roots" this weekend.