Friday, March 14, 2008

So long, Dale

This Sunday’s race at Bristol marks the end of an era for NASCAR when Dale Jarrett retires following an incredible 21 full seasons of Cup and 32 wins. Between 1996 and 2001, Jarrett never finished lower than fifth in the points – a six-year streak that only Jimmie Johnson has matched in recent years. The highlight of his career, obviously, came in 1999 when he won the Winston Cup driving the No. 88 for Robert Yates.

That career is ending much like it began. He has struggled to make races since moving to Michael Waltrip Racing, just as he did in the beginning. Nevertheless, Jarrett will be remembered as one of the best drivers in NASCAR history.

Top-5 Dale Jarrett moments
5. Jarrett raced Tony Stewart for his final Cup win -barring a victory this weekend - at the fall Talladega race in 2005. It had been nearly two years since he last won at Rockingham in 2003. Sensing it might be his last victory, he stopped his car on the front stretch, stood on the driver’s door and waved the checkered flag to the crowd.

4. Daytona 500 victories in 1996 and 2000 gave him three for his career. Jarrett debuted in the No. 88 car in '96 with new crew chief Todd Parrott and promptly beat Dale Earnhardt in the season opener. It was not the only time he victimized The Intimidator in the 500. That win catapulted the team into an incredible run over the next decade and secured Jarrett as a fan favorite. In 2000, Jarrett sat on the pole, won the Bud Shootout and then passed Johnny Benson in the closing laps to win his third 500.

3. Jarrett continued his stellar freshman season at Robert Yates Racing with a victory in the 1996 Brickyard 500. He out dueled teammate Ernie Irvan for a 1-2 RYR finish. Then in 1999, he won again there on his way to his championship.

2. He scored his first career win driving the famed No. 21 for the Wood Brothers as he barely held off a charging Davey Allison at the line. The image that sticks in my mind is the in-car camera showing Jarrett excitedly pumping his fist. Oh, and his prize money for that victory at Michigan in 1991: $74,150.

1. The most memorable victory of Jarrett’s career came less than two years later at Daytona. Driving for an upstart team owned by a future Hall of Fame football coach named Joe Gibbs, Jarrett weaved around Earnhardt on the final lap and held off his frantic pass attempts down the backstretch. What makes this win so special is that his father, Ned Jarrett, called the race with his smooth southern drawel. A classic that still brings chills down my spine as the normally objective commentator announced the final lap as a proud father.

1 comment:

Brant said...

Dale Jarrett is an easy guy to root for. He and his dad are on the all-time team for class acts in NASCAR.