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The Callahan Report: Jarrett wins 'apologetic' Daytona 500

20 February 2000

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Dale Jarrett
DAYTONA BEACH, FL--Prior to the running of the 2000 Daytona 500, Dale Jarrett made a commitment to one of his toughest competitors. Jarrett promised Mark Martin if they were together on the race track towards the end of the race, he would run with him to pass the leader. Touted as "one of the finest gentlemen in NASCAR", Jarrett forgot his promise and captured his third Daytona 500 in the process.

Jarrett and Martin, both driving Fords, were running second and third respectively behind the strong running Pontiac of Johnny Benson. There were thirteen laps remaining in the Daytona 500. It was time to go racing. Coming out of the second turn, Martin went high, expecting Jarrett to do the same . . . just as they had discussed before the race. Martin made the move so he and Jarrett could move to the front. Instead of pulling up to run with Martin, Jarrett went to the low side of the track to keep Jeff Burton from having room to pass. Jarrett and Burton got back in line behind Benson. Mark Martin lost the draft and fell through the field.

Considering the fact that Martin has been one of Jarrett's closest competitors during the past three seasons, it was the smartest move Jarrett could have made. In victory lane, Jarrett was apologetic.

"The one thing I hate about the whole day was I told Mark Martin that I would work with him if we tried to go high. He went high. I went low to protect my position," said Jarrett. "I don't tell someone I am going to do something and then not do it. I regret that."

When it comes to winning the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Winston Cup Championship . . . anything goes.

Jarrett was in a similar situation last weekend during the Bud Shootout. He and his teammate, Ricky Rudd, agreed via team radio communications to team up to move to the front of that race with two laps remaining in the event. Jarrett made a move on his own with three laps to go which sent Rudd back slightly in the field. Jarrett won that race too.

As the final practice session for the Daytona 500 came to a close Saturday, it looked as if Jarrett would have trouble becoming a three-time winner. He was involved in an on-track altercation that left his Ford damaged. His team, led by Todd Parrott, worked furiously to make repairs to his damaged racer.

"I knew when he (Parrott) told me he could fix it would we would be OK," Jarrett said.

NASCAR's biggest race was lacking excitement until the final 50 laps. Passes for the lead were non-existent. In a sport that is known for keeping fans on their feet, caffeine was in high demand as the single file freight train circled the track.

Action returned on lap 157 during the third caution period of the race. Johnny Benson, who didn't have sponsorship until yesterday, decided to change two tires on his pit stop. Bill Elliott used the same strategy. Benson was able to keep the powerful Ford teams behind him until a few laps from the finish.

"I wish I had a little more than I had, but that's all I had. I knew what they were going to do, and I did everything I could to prevent it," said Benson. "Dale's car was just too strong coming off turn two, and he got underneath me. I ran him down as low as I could, but I wasn't going to wreck us all, either."

Multi-car crashes are common in restrictor-plate racing. The "big one" came on lap 193. Michael Waltrip slid up the track in front of Jimmy Spencer and Dale Earnhardt. Spencer went high to avoid Waltrip, forcing Earnhardt to scrape the outside wall in the tri-oval area. Waltrip continued up the track and nipped the front or Earnhardt's car with his rear end, which sent Waltrip spinning out of control. Waltrip was t-boned by Elliott Sadler. Several others slid through the Daytona grass.

The Fords finally blew by Benson just after the final green flag waved on lap 197. Benson fell to twelfth place before the field took the yellow flag on lap 198 after Jimmy Spencer blew a tire (from earlier contact with Earnhardt) and crashed. The race finished under caution with Jarrett, Jeff Burton, Bill Elliott, Rusty Wallace, and Mark Martin leading the way.

Jarrett and his team worked tirelessly throughout the 1999 season to earn their first championship. They are starting out the 2000 racing season where they left off in 99. The Yates team is using all of their talent, work ethic, and financial backing in an attempt to become back-to-back champions.

At the conclusion of the 1999 season, the team used their financial clout to buy the fastest pit crew on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. Jarrett's team owner Robert Yates hired Jeff Gordon's "Rainbow Warrior" pit crew. With superior funding and Jarrett's talent (both on and off the track), the Robert Yates racing team promises to be one of the strongest contenders for the 2000 title.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.