The Callahan Report: Jarrett Quietly Moving Toward a Championship
16 May 1999
By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
Jarrett was running strongly in the top-five during the last half of the Saturday night race. He watched strong cars go "over the limit" with tire problems. He watched others have mechanical problems. Jarrett finally passed Mark Martin for the lead with 32 laps remaining in the Pontiac Excitement 400. He won by seven car lengths.
"We were good, but those guys in front were just a little bit better (at the beginning of the race). We were kind of taking our time making small adjustments. We didn't want to get ourselves out in left field because we knew we were close," said Jarrett after grabbing his fist win this season. "Also, the 99 (Jeff Burton) had problems and we figured we didn't want to get too far back. This was a chance to make up some points. We made a small adjustment there at the end."
Jeff Burton was the Winston Cup points leader heading into the race at Richmond. Transmission troubles caused Burton to sit in the garage area for an extended period of time. He finished 37th. Despite Burton's dismal finish, he led the most laps in the race. He fell to second place in the point standings.
While many front-runners had mechanical or tire problems, Jarrett had a typical race. He and his team worked the car. They made it "race-ready" at the finish. Jarrett even commented about how good his tires were, saying "That last set of Goodyear Eagles was just fantastic."
John Andretti and Mike Skinner looked like they had the cars to beat early in the race. Both drivers had to make pit stops while leading, due to blistered tires. Skinner battled from two laps down to lead again, but another tire problem sent him into the wall and back to a 31st place finish.
The slickest veterans were also miffed by the tire problems. Jeff Gordon and Ricky Rudd battled with the subject all night. Gordon finished three laps off the pace. Rudd blew a tire and went into the wall, taking Rusty Wallace with him. Rudd headed to the garage area for repairs and Wallace continued for a strong finish.
The tire problem was not a surprise to some drivers. Mark Martin and his team saw the tire wear problem during testing after a new sealer had been placed on the racing surface at Richmond.
"The tires were blistering because the sealer was getting such a bite on the tire," Martin said. "We saw that with the Busch car in testing here. If your car wasn't handling really perfect, it would abuse one particular tire. If it was pushing, you would abuse the right front and it would blister. It's because of the sealer giving it so much grip."
Goodyear tire engineers saw it a little differently, but the result was the same. They said that because of the new sealer on the track, the tires were not dissipating heat normally. They recommended that the teams decrease the air pressure in the tires by one PSI, so that the tires would have a larger contact with the track. The resulting contact surface area would dissipate the heat properly.
"To make our car turn, we didn't do things a lot of others were doing by using a lot of camber," Jarrett said. "Todd (Parrott, Jarrett's crew chief) keeps me safe in that race car. When other people are having problems, we are usually pretty good."
Todd Parrott added, "The patience part was a big key. Starting back in 21st we had a lot of cars to pass, a lot of traffic. Dale having the patience and biding his time and us just sitting there working with the car all night long and, fortunately, having the cautions that we had tonight, we were able to really dissect what the car needed."
Enough said. Teamwork, patience and consistency are playing the biggest role in Dale Jarrett's chase for the coveted Winston Cup.
Jarrett's victory at Richmond also had some "sweet revenge" attached. He was leading the Pontiac Excitement 400 last year when NASCAR decided to throw the red flag because of a late race crash. Officials wanted to give the fans a green flag finish. On the race re-start, Jarrett got a tap from Terry Labonte and dropped to second place as a result.
A year ago, Dale Jarrett left Richmond with a furious frown. He will be smiling this week as NASCAR heads to its version of the all-star game, "The Winston", at Charlotte Motor Speedway.