Jarrett Takes Pennsylvania 500
21 July 1997LONG POND, PA -- When you think dominance in Winston Cup, two teams come to mind. The first would be Jeff Gordon in the #24 Hendrick Motorsports Monte Carlo and the second is Dale Jarrett in the #88 Robert Yates Racing Thunderbird. It was the potent #88 Yates rocket that manhandled Jeff Gordon, beating him and all others to the stripe by a healthy 2.99 second margin in the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono International Raceway.
Jarrett started the race in the fourth slot but slid to the back-half of the top-ten in the early stages of the race. It wasn't until after the first round of green flag stops that Jarrett could even see the front of the pack let alone race for the lead. Jarrett, who was second to Gordon, just rode along waiting for his car to come to him. "It wasn't extremely fast on new tires, but after about 10 laps the car really came to life," said Jarrett. Then, almost as if on cue, Jarrett's car 'came to life' on lap 55 and motored past Gordon for the lead. From there the only time that Jarrett wouldn't be on the point was during the periods right after a pit stop when Jarrett would have to wait for the car to come to him.
As the race laps clicked off it was apparent that Jarrett was going to be the one to beat. It was the last cycle of green flag stops, starting on lap 162, that had the others looking for a way to at least get on the same straightaway as Jarrett. It was two tire stops for the likes of Ted Musgrave, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin, trying everything to stop the thrashing that Jarrett was dishing out. Jarrett, not wanting to explore how his car would run on two tires, opted for a four tire stop on lap 164 - Gordon also took four.
When Jarrett returned to the track he was behind Gordon, Jeff Burton and Ted Musgrave, who was riding on the point. Jarrett again, after the new was knocked off his tires, started picking them off one at a time until he was back in the lead on lap 180. Jarrett, speaking about some of his team's late race misfortunes, said, "As many times as we've been running well this year and then something would happen - I was a little apprehensive there at the end." Jarrett settled into his rhythm and clicked off laps until the checkers flew over the the Quality Care Ford.
Jarrett talking of the team's third victory of the 1997 season said, "I did have an awesome race car and probably the best engine I've ever had in a car. Even when I would mess up a little bit, or the car would get a little tight, it would still get down the straightaway. This motor was incredible. It's almost unfair that thing [Yates motor] was so good."
Second place finisher Jeff Gordon, who has had a couple of bad races lately, said, "It was nice to have a decent finish again. Nobody could touch Dale Jarrett today. I saw him coming early on. He got caught in traffic back there, but once he started coming, he didn't waste any time."
Third through fifth place was sewn up by Roush Racing's three cars of Jeff Burton, Ted Musgrave and Mark Martin, in that order. Martin looked like he was in for a long day after a tire worked loose early in the race but combined pit strategy and luck to get back to the front. Team owner Jack Roush said, "I feel lucky whenever we can bring three cars here and run 1,500 miles and not have anything break. We can do a little better with our cars and with our engines and we can certainly do a better job of preparation, as far as that wheel on the 6 car was concerned."
The points battle took on a new complexion after a case of 'brotherly shove'. It was on a lap 127 restart that Bobby Labonte tagged brother Terry Labonte and sent him spinning into the #3 car of Dale Earnhardt. By the time the pile-up was over, some seven cars sustained damage with senior Labonte, Earnhardt and the pole sitter - Joe Nemechek showing the heaviest damage of the group. Terry Labonte brought the bent-up Kellogg's car in for repairs and was able to finish the race - seven laps off the 200 that made up the Pennsylvania 500. Labonte, who was having handling woes even before the wreck, fell from the top-spot in Winston Cup championship points to third - 114 markers behind the new leader Jeff Gordon. Gordon is followed by Martin, who is 64 points out of first place.
The on-again off-again luck that Rusty Wallace and the Penske Racing South crew have been experiencing was definitely -off- this weekend. Wallace had to resort to a provisional starting spot just to get in the show. It looked like Wallace had whipped the demons that tormented his qualifying efforts as he sliced through the field and found himself in the top-five on lap 123. The efforts were for naught as the motor of the #2 Ford let go on lap 174 relegating Wallace to a 37th place finishing spot. The horrible finish knocked him back three spots in the points battle to 14th.
The Pennsylvania 500 took 3 hours 31 minutes 10 seconds to complete. Jarrett's average speed at the checkers was 142.068 miles per hour. There were 23 lead changes among 14 drivers and the race was slowed by the caution flag only 4 times for 18 laps.
The Winston Cup series takes a weekend off before heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 4th annual Brickyard 400 will be run on August 3. The defending race champion is Dale Jarrett.
Mike Snow -- The Auto Channel