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The Callahan Report: If Jarrett continues, Michigan could be 'nap time' for racing fans

19 August 1999

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel

Jeff Gordon
BROOKLYN, MI: The frustrations of working hard without any rewards can cause a sane person to do crazy things. The "Jeff Gordon is cheating" accusations began at Michigan International Speedway, the site of this week's NASCAR Pepsi 400. It is a time when many of the top contenders begin to see their chances of winning slip away. Jeff Gordon was back in the pack just before the final pit stop in the Pepsi 400. He took on two tires and blew past the competition. He went on to win the race (one of his thirteen victories).

Dominance in NASCAR Winston Cup racing can change as quickly as a politician's comments on taxes. This year, Dale Jarrett is the driver who is able to win under any circumstances. There are two Winston Cup races held at Michigan each racing season. Jarrett is more than capable of running away with the victory this time-around. His competition is becoming very frustrated.

The days of well wishes are over. Jarrett's competition hopes he will have bad luck. It is the only way they have a shot at getting back into the contention for the coveted Winston Cup.

If Jarrett will be challenged at Michigan, Bobby Labonte will be the one to answer the call. Labonte was the runner-up at the Pepsi 400 last year. He neither gained nor lost ground as he started from the second position. The team has studied their racing notes, tested different cars and setups, and has great communication. Labonte and Jarrett could make the 1999 version of the Pepsi 400 a "run-away-and-hide" affair. Labonte also won this race in 1995.

Gordon has always been good at Michigan. Until last year, he had trouble finding victory lane in the Irish Hills of Michigan. He is coming off a powerful victory on the road course at Watkins Glen last weekend. That win was attributed to driving skill. The young master of NASCAR will have to use all his skill to become a threat at Michigan this weekend. Gordon's Monte Carlo is not as quick as the Jarrett's Ford Taurus. However, his skill, combined with the brains of Ray Evernham calling the shots in the pits, may be ingredients for success at the 2- mile high-banked oval.

Much of the "finger pointing" mentioned earlier came from Jack Roush, car owner for the 1998 4th and 5th place finishers at the Pepsi 400 (Mark Martin and Jeff Burton respectively). Both of those drivers should be a threat for victory at Michigan again this year. Martin is healing nicely from the injuries he received at Daytona in July. He is a three time winner here (1990, 1993, and 1997). Martin and Michigan go together like multi- colored t-shirts and race fans. His is a perfect fit.

There is plenty of talent waiting to enter victory lane at Michigan. If the regular "front runners" have problems, they will be poised to capitalize on their misfortune. Drivers like Tony Stewart, Mike Skinner, John Andretti, Ward Burton, and Wally Dallenbach, Jr. are all ready to show their stuff in the nation's automotive capital.

One thing is for certain. The stands will be a sea of color this Sunday, unlike the "ghost town" of a race held in July which featured the CART FedEx Championship cars. NASCAR racing in Michigan has become the track's premier event(s).

Advise to race fans: Turn on the television and wait for something to happen. If Dale Jarrett doesn't have trouble, it will be another run- away so be prepared to take a nap. If he falls on misfortune, the racing at Michigan will be fast and furious.

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