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The Callahan Report: Return to power: Jarrett wins at Martinsville

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel

April 8, 2001

MARTINSVILLE, VA: The strong shall survive. Dale Jarrett proved this with horsepower, physical stamina, and fresh tires during the Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway Sunday. Just as he had done at Texas a week ago, Jarrett made a pass for the lead with less than ten laps to go in a NASCAR Winston Cup race. He won for the third time in eight races. The 1999 series champion has returned to power.

Jarrett, who is extremely focused and calculating this season, is proving that his championship two years ago was not a fluke. Jarrett never led the Virginia 500 until he took the lead with a handful of laps remaining. He was never impatient. He never lost his head. He showed no mercy.

When Jarrett took the lead, he passed his race-starved teammate (Ricky Rudd) who has not won in two seasons. Jarrett raced like a champion and not a teammate. When he saw an opening…he took it. He used his stronger car and fresher tires to pass and 'power away' from Rudd. Jarrett raced for the win, just as it should be.

"Todd Parrott (crew chief) made a great call to come in and get tires to adjust the car," Jarrett said. "We weren't good enough to win the way we were. The car just wasn't sticking very good. It was pushing in the center and I knew it wasn't going to come in and do any better, so we knew that we could come in and make the car better. It had been better than that."

Ricky Rudd proved he could win at Martinsville four years ago when he had to be removed from his car after another hot and grueling race day. Rudd looked like he was going to return to those winning ways Sunday. He has not won since joining Robert Yates Racing more than two years ago. Rudd led for 50 laps after he passed Jeff Burton under similar terms. Rudd had fresher tires than Burton when he made his pass.

"The decision was made way back not to get tires," said Rudd. They had the restarts at the end and we couldn't come in at that point. We either got outsmarted or they made a luckier call."

The battle between Burton and Rudd brought the fans to their feet. Both drivers are Virginia natives. Burton is from South Boston, Virginia, not far from Martinsville. Rudd is from Chesapeake, Virginia. Rudd stayed on the track during the final two caution periods to protect his lead. Burton made a pit stop during the final caution to get fresh tires, causing him to drop to 12th place when he returned to racing action. Burton fought his way back to third place at the finish.

"Tires won the race," Jeff Burton said. "There was a lot said about not needing tires today, but anytime I can get them, I want them."

Jarrett timed his pit strategy right. He made his final stop on the next to last caution period (87 laps remaining). It was just enough time for Jarrett to make it to the front without being passed himself by Burton.

The action was furious on the pit lane too. Kevin Gabard, front tire carrier on Mike Skinner's car was injured during a late race pit stop when a lose tire from the No. 9 car (Bill Elliott) rolled into the Skinner pit. Gabard had just jumped off the wall and was running around the left side of the car when the tire clipped his left knee and sent him down to the ground. He has had ACL surgery on that knee more than once, and thinks he might have re-injured it. He was treated and released from the infield care center and will see his personal doctor first thing Monday morning.

Bobby Hamilton led the most laps in the race. He dropped considerably just after the mid point of the race after he over-used his tires. Hamilton recovered to finish in fourth place.

"It's just strategy," Hamilton said of his tire abuse. "Somebody had a little better strategy. We wanted to go early and see how long we could go where we'd know what to do at the end of the race. And 180 laps is just a little too far for us and we had to back it up about 30 (laps)."

Jarrett increased his point lead to 123 over Jeff Gordon, who finished in 12th place on the lead lap. There is no racing action next weekend (Easter Break). The teams will need a breather after the heat and banging at Martinsville. They need time to think and prepare for the high speed drama of NASCAR's longest track in two weeks…Talladega.

For a short track race, the Virginia 500 was very competitive. There were 17 cars still on the lead lap at the end of the race. The race was slowed only 12 times to clear up messes associated with racing on a half-mile track.

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