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The Callahan Report: The NASCAR Winston Cup Points Race is Not Over Yet

3 November 1997

PHOENIX, AZ: Dale Jarrett woke up this morning knowing he would need some help if he was to have a chance at winning the 1997 Winston Cup Championship. Jarrett got the help he needed when series point leader, Jeff Gordon, had a problem. Gordon cut a tire....dropped through the field...and lost three laps while his crew attended to his problems. Jarrett conserved fuel and drove to his seventh victory of 1997 as he won the Dura Lube 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

[ Dale Jarrett ]Dale Jarrett

Jarrett said, "Nobody's told us we can't (take the Winston Cup), and we wouldn't listen to them if they did. We're not cocky, but we're confident. Now Jeff and his guys can't just go down there and run around." He concluded, "He's got to race and, when you race, anything can happen."

Jarrett found himself "out of sequence" on pits stops early in the race. Jarrett was one of the first drivers to make a pit stop under the green flag. As Jarrett was coming out of the pits, the yellow flag was displayed at the start finish line. The two drivers Jarrett was chasing for the Winston Cup (Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin) made their stops under the yellow flag, preserving their valuable track position. Jarrett's crew chief, Todd Parrot, reacted quickly. He put Jarrett in the fuel conservation mode. Jarrett was able to stretch his final tank of fuel farther than he had on any sequence in the race. The call by Parrot was a gamble, but he knew it was the only way to keep Jarrett in contention for the championship.

Jarrett commented on the race and the fuel mileage, "It's just an incredible race car. It was built in-house from the ground up and this is the first time we've raced it. It was so good, it let me take it easy with the fuel and we were able to finish without any problem." Jarrett continued, "The only way to save fuel is to stay off the throttle, and my car was good enough I could get off the throttle and roll through the center of the turns without losing much at all."

The 1997 Winston Cup Championship battle became tight quickly as Gordon sat in the pits. Before the race, Gordon held a 125 lead on Mark Martin. Jarrett was 145 behind Gordon. Jarrett's win pulled him to within 77 points of Gordon. He passed Mark Martin in the point race. Martin finished sixth at Phoenix. He is 87 points behind Gordon. Gordon finished 17th. The three drivers will battle one more time at Atlanta to decide the championship on November 16th.

[ Jeff Gordon ]
Jeff Gordon, Current Winston Cup Points Leader

Gordon talked about his problems, "I really don't know what the problem was. I felt something was going on the right side and I knew it was going to be a miracle to get to the end without pitting. Then, bang, something just went. I was real lucky not to hit the wall." He continued, "I've been saying all year it's going to go right down to Atlanta and, boom, here it is."

Mark Martin talked about his sixth place run. He said, "We dug ourselves a deep, deep hole at the beginning of the race. We just missed the set-up bad. I never thought we'd recover so well, but this team did an awesome job. We kept it in the championship contention anyway by coming from the very back of the field to sixth with an ill-handling car."

Rusty Wallace was strong all day and appeared to be on his way to his first victory at Phoenix. Wallace ran hard and flawless. He led most of the race. Wallace waited patiently for Jarrett to make his expected pit stop late in the race. The pit stop never came. Wallace closed the gap late in the race but settled for second in the Miller Lite Thunderbird.

Polesitter Bobby Hamilton dominated much of the early going in the race. Hamilton stayed near the front all day and finished third. Hamilton was the highest finishing GM (General Motors) driver.

Terry Callahan -- The Auto Channel

Editor's Note: The images displayed in this article (plus many more drawings) can be viewed in the Visions Of Speed Art Gallery.