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The Callahan Report: Jarrett Wins at Daytona using Talent and 'Lady Luck'

4 July 1999

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
Dale Jarrett
Daytona Beach, FL: Dale Jarrett should be standing in line to buy lottery tickets. He is on a lucky streak. The only chance he had at winning the Pepsi 400 Saturday night was to get some intervention from 'Lady Luck.' Jarrett was blessed with two caution flags in the final laps of the race. Without those 'slow down' periods, Jarrett most likely would have lost 30 positions, or more.

Of course, to take advantage of lucky breaks, you have to be in front. That is exactly where Jarrett was during the closing laps Saturday night. His driving talent, along with the extraordinary skills of his engine builders and pit crew, placed him at the front of the pack. Consistently being up front at the end has given Jarrett a whopping 177 point lead in the Winston Cup points race. If Jarrett can continue on his current pace, he will be the final speaker at the awards banquet in December. After fifteen years of hard work and hard luck, he looks to be well on his way to capturing his first championship.

The Pepsi 400 was not lacking in excitement. The leaders made green flag pit stops with less than 20 laps remaining in the 160 lap event. Jarrett, along with others running in the top ten (Rusty Wallace, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, and Mike Skinner), took on fuel only. Those drivers made "timed" pit stops. The original plan was for Jarrett to take on four-seconds-worth of fuel. Jarrett was in his pit stall less than three seconds. He charged back to the track in first place. The question came quickly . . . "Will he have enough fuel to finish?"

Four of the final twelve laps were ran under caution Saturday night, including the final two trips around the two-and-a-half mile tri-oval. Jarrett ran out of fuel half-way through his victory lap. He would have ran out before the checkered flag had it not been for the caution periods.

In public, Jarrett gave credit to his crew for making a great call. Behind the scenes, he is probably wondering if they had a direct hotline to the racing gods.

"It would have been awful close (on gas)." said Jarrett. " I think we could have made it because being out front I could kind of dictate what was going on and I think we would have made it, but they cut it awful close there."

Dale Earnhardt, who was catching Jarrett during green flag racing, knew Jarrett was in trouble. "I think within a few more laps we would have gotten by Jarrett," Earnhardt said. "He might have run out of gas, because he was really close. That caution really helped him."

During the final two circuits under caution, Jarrett was instructed to drive on the flat part of the track. His crew chief, Todd Parrott, knew that Jarrett would sputter to a stop if he stayed in the racing groove on Daytona's high banked turns. Since he was so low on fuel, his "fuel pick-up" would be non-existent at slow speeds.

Lucky or not, Jarrett and his Ford Quality Care Team have worked hard all season. Luck is only a small part of the team's success. While Saturday night featured luck, Jarrett has visited victory lane two other times this season. He has placed his Ford Taurus in the top ten a total of fourteen times since the season opening Daytona 500.

"I can't remember being involved in anything like it," Jarrett said. "We've overcome some things where we shouldn't have finished in the top 10 and we did.

"We've done things we need to do to win championships. There have been days we needed all 500 miles, or all 600 miles, to get the car right. But we continued to work on it and get it right."

Rusty Wallace was the dominant driver throughout most of the night. His race ended in frustration. He made a move to go back to the front late in the race. He got "caught out" when it was time to go racing in the final laps.

"That was unreal. I can't believe that. I was sitting there running second and had a run on the leader and I looked up and I thought Dale (Earnhardt) would go with me and he stayed up high and hung me out to dry," said a dejected Wallace. "I thought of all guys, he'd help me. Then I went from second back to 11th because of that, but, hey, that's racing."

Jeff Burton, who had to use a provisional start to get into the Pepsi 400 because of a blown engine during qualifying, finished the race in third place. Burton took two tires and fuel on his final stop to move him to the front at the finish.

Mike Skinner finished fourth. He was followed by the Pontiacs of the Gibbs Racing Team, driven by Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart. The sixth place finish by Stewart was just one of many impressive performances by the rookie standout.

Jarrett collected $164,965 for his victory. The race was slowed by 3 caution periods for a total of 9 laps. There were 17 lead changes between 9 different drivers. The average speed of the race was 169.213 mph.

Daytona "under the lights" marked the half-way point of the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Season. There were two Fords, four Pontiacs, and four Chevrolets in the top ten.

Winston Cup Points: Jarrett 2674, B. Labonte 2497, Martin 2440, Burton 2419, Gordon 2271, Stewart 2261, Earnhardt 2182, Wallace 2053, Burton 2023, Mayfield 2015.

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