NASCAR: Strong Charlotte Finish Sets up Jarrett for Indy Bonus
1 June 1998
But car owner Robert Yates had different ideas when he built a team around veteran driver Dale Jarrett in 1996. Yates put the right people in the right positions and already had some of the best equipment in the stock car series.
How did Jarrett respond? He was good from the get-go, winning the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He wrapped it all up with a stirring victory in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"That was certainly an exceptional season for us," said Jarrett, who drives the Quality Care/Ford Credit Taurus out of the Yates shop. "To win the races that we won in one year was pretty incredible. It's a feat nobody has been able to accomplish. I guess our goal now is try to be the first two-time winner of the Brickyard 400. That's something we still want to do."
No other driver has won that particular combination of NASCAR's major events. If a driver does this year, he'll earn a $1-million bonus.
The top five drivers from the Coca-Cola 600 - Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin and Jarrett -- will be eligible for Winston's "No Bull 5" program, which rewards performance in NASCAR's biggest, most anticipated events. If any of the top five from the 600 wins at Indy, the bonus money will be rewarded.
The other NASCAR majors are the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, and the Winston 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Even without a $1 million bonus, Jarrett said his victory in the 1996 Brickyard 400 stands as one his most memorable.
"Oh, it's certainly close to the top," said Jarrett, who entered the 1998 Winston Cup campaign with 15 career victories. "Winning the Daytona 500 is the ultimate in this business. But winning at Indy is pretty darn special. There's not a whole lot of people who can say they've won at Indy, whether it's a stock car or not. I'm one of those fortunate few that can."
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with a history that stretches back to the beginning of this century, offers the maximum test of driving skill. The rectangular design is unique to the Winston Cup circuit and demands the finest equipment tuned to exacting standards.
"It's a handling racetrack," said Jarrett, whose father, Ned Jarrett, won two Winston Cup championships before retiring. "We go there and test every year, even though we feel like we know what it takes to get around. We may find something that's a little better. As everybody runs, they may find something that makes them a little better, so we have to stay ahead of the competition.
"It's just a flat track, and it seems to suit what we do. You have to have horsepower, and that seems to suit our style. I think the key to us going well there is that we can beat people through the corners. We work hard making that happen."
Since Jarrett grew up around racing, he's got a special appreciation for racing tradition and the rich history the sport offers. His dad, who won Winston Cup titles in 1961 and '65, never had the opportunity to run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"A lot of things have happened there; a lot of people have raced and won there," said Jarrett. "It's a track that I enjoy racing at. The fans are terrific, and I think that's what makes it a lot of fun. The fans are very vocal. They know their racing, and they love the racing there."
Jarrett is not only chasing his second Brickyard 400 victory. He's also after his first Winston Cup championship. His cause was helped by a victory in the MBNA Platinum 400 on May 31 at Dover, Del. The win was Jarrett's second of the season. He is fifth in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings with 1,635 points, 125 behind leader Gordon. The Brickyard 400 is the starting point of the stretch run for the title.
"I think we can win," said Jarrett. "I think we have the people and equipment that can win. There's a lot of challengers this year. It's going to stay tight all season, and there could be five or six cars running for the title at the end of the season."
And one of those championship swing races is the Brickyard 400. Jarrett knows the importance of a good run that weekend.
"Indy is one of the keys for us," said Jarrett. "I enjoy that racetrack and being there. It's a special place with the history there. It's a track I enjoy because of the challenge. It's a flat track. We've done well there and had success. Anytime you've had success, you like a place even more."