Jarretts Title Hopes Smashed

CONCORD, N.C. -- It was an oh-so-helpless feeling for Dale Jarrett.

Not only was the driver of the No. 88 Quality Care/Ford Credit Taurus involved in an accident not of his doing, but it couldn't have come at a more inopportune time. While his 40th-place finish in the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway Sunday didn't mathematically eliminate him from the Winston Cup championship chase in 2000, it did put a severe crimp in his chances of winning a second straight title.

But then that's just the way Jarrett's 2000 season has gone. The magical consistency and winning atmosphere that surrounded him in his 1999 championship campaign has been noticeably missing this year.

With five races left, Jarrett is 388 points behind Bobby Labonte, who went on to win Sunday's 334-lap event. Trailing by 251 points coming in, and an outside shot of chasing Labonte down to defend his championship, Sunday's accident unofficially ended those hopes.

"I'd say pretty much that will do it, yeah," said a dejected Jarrett in the garage area. "But we'll just keep racing. We've been trying to win races all year long, and that's what we'll continue to try to do."

Jarrett's day ended on Lap 160 when he apparently changed lines, moving from the high side of the track down low. That took Rusty Wallace, who tapped Jarrett from behind, by surprise sending Jarrett's car spinning into the wall in Turn 3. The accident also involved Robert Pressley and polesitter Jeff Gordon.

"I just got hit going into Turn 3," Jarrett said. "I was just making my normal line and I guess somebody drove in a little bit farther and caught me in the left rear."

"I came down that back straightaway flying," said Wallace, who finished 21st. "He (Jarrett) was up high and I went down, and when I went down at the last minute, he turned down. I committed, I went to the bottom and I just got my right fronts barely down to him. I thought he was just gonna hold his line. He went right down and I couldn't stop."

Jarrett won four races during his championship run last season. This year, however, has seen Jarrett win but one time, that in the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February. He's finished second three more times, but hasn't been able to put his Taurus back in victory lane.

In the meantime, Robert Yates teammate Ricky Rudd and his team have begun to put things together with the No. 28 Texaco-Havoline Ford. Rudd, who struggled early on with his new team, led the most laps Sunday and finished third, his fourth consecutive top-five finish and his eighth straight top-10 run.

Jarrett still sits fourth in the points and Rudd sixth, but it's Rudd's team that appears to be headed in the right direction and is garnering more attention than its No. 88 counterpart.

"Dale was still in the hunt somewhat and it's got to be disappointing for him," Rudd said. "They've still had a very good year, but I'm sure he's really disappointed about not being able to defend that championship. Both the 28 and the 88 teams are running very well right now and are contenders to win races… maybe next year, championships. That's what we've been shooting for since I came over here to Robert Yates Racing."

Small consolation for Jarrett, who will just ride out the remainder of the season with wins being the only possible prize ahead.

"That's what we've been doing all year, trying to get wins, and that's what we'll continue to do," Jarrett said. "That's all we can do now."

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