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The Callahan Report: Benson rolls dice and loses; Jarrett wins for second time in 2001

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel

April 1, 2001

FORT WORTH, TX: Johnny Benson's team decided to roll the dice Sunday in the Harrah's 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The bet nearly paid off. Benson led the field to the green flag after the final caution period with 18 laps remaining. He didn't pit for new tires when the final caution flag appeared after Elliott Sadler hit the wall late in the show. The rest of the leaders made pit stops, taking at least two tires. Dale Jarrett was not a gambler. His pit crew quickly slapped four new tires on his UPS sponsored Ford Taurus. Jarrett went from sixth place to first, winning for the second time this season.

Jarrett and his team led by Todd Parrott have always been quick to give credit to everyone on the team. While Jarrett gave praise to crew chief Parrott for his quick call for four tires on the final stop, Parrott said the praise goes to his driver.

"We've got Dale Jarrett behind the wheel," said Parrott. "He got on the top of the wheel and drove his heart out."

It is true that Jarrett drove a strong race. He led the most laps of any driver, swapping the lead with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Park. Jarrett's power is provided by Robert Yates racing and that deserves much of the credit for his victory. Jarrett drove to his first Winston Cup Championship in 1999 using Robert Yates engines.

When the final yellow flag waved, Johnny Benson was the only driver on the lead lap to take the gamble, trying to finish the race on used tires. Benson looked like a winner until Jarrett finally shot past him with five laps remaining. Jeff Gordon took two tires on his stop and fell to fifth place. Benson was able to hold on for a third place finish as a result of his "team" decision.

"We really couldn't do anything else," Benson said. "We weren't able to come from the back, so we took the gamble. James [Ince] said, 'What do you think? Do you want to stay out?' I said, 'Yeah, let's go for it,' and I stayed out."

"I knew the guys on four tires were coming," Benson continued. "I thought maybe I could hold off the guys with two tires. I didn't think I could hold anybody off with four tires and that ended up proving to be the case. I was kind of hoping that they would get to racing behind us. That was helping me, but eventually they got by us. They went by me like I was standing still."

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. hated to see the final caution flag. The defending Champion of the race was pulling away from the field, much like he did last year. Earnhardt Jr. had more than a two second when the cars slowed for the last time. His crew replaced four tires, but the setup was not as good as Jarrett's. Earnhardt was able to move up to sixth place at the finish. After a string of bad luck, he was happy to finish a race. Earnhardt led 107 laps during the race.

Steve Park was the fastest car at the end of the race. The Rockingham winner took four tires on his final stop. His stop was not as quick as Jarrett's causing him to have too much ground to cover. Park was able to get by Benson for second place, making him a strong contender in the Winston Cup points chase.

'"We got ourselves in a little bit of trouble because the car didn't take as much gas as we thought it would," Park said. "It showed how strong the Pennzoil team is to able to come back. I'm getting to know what the back of his car looks like real good, and I don't like that, but we'll take second."

Dale Jarrett entered Sunday's race leading the Winston Cup point standings. With his victory, he widen the gap on three time champion Jeff Gordon, who finished a strong fifth in the Harrah's 500.

"We gambled, took two tires and it was a good try," said Gordon. "But I think if we could have been out front on that restart, we could have had him. (Johnny) Benson really held me up and my car was so tight I just couldn't get by him, but a great effort. Texas has not been one of our good tracks. So to come out of here with a top five is like a win to this team."

Michael Waltrip, winner of the 2001 Daytona 500, was in a crash on lap four that brought out the first of nine caution flags for the day.

"I was real tight and I had the wheels cut," Waltrip said. "And the guy behind me was right on me and it just took the back end out from underneath of it. It wasn't anybody's fault but my own. I just lost it there on (turn) four."

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series heads to Martinsville, VA next weekend, one of the tightest and toughest tracks on the circuit. From super-fast speedways to wheel bangin' short tracks, the NASCAR season is in full swing.

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