Jarrett Plans On Delivering

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Nobody ever said defending a NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship was easy. Dale Jarrett certainly wouldn’t say such.

Coming off a 1999 season in which he claimed his first title, Jarrett was a contender until the final few races in 2000, slipping near the end and ending up fourth in the points with only a pair of victories.

Granted, one of those triumphs came in the season-opening Daytona 500, but it wasn’t until late October before he and his No. 88 Ford Quality Care team picked up a second one. That lack of consistency hampered his hopes of repeating, and Bobby Labonte ascended to the Winston Cup throne.

Lack of consistency, however, had never been a problem in the past for Jarrett, who had won 18 races the previous four years and never finished lower than third in points in that time. It’s just that he and his team encountered problems it never had before.

During his championship season, Jarrett finished lower than 19th only twice. Last season, the No. 88 team finished lower than 30th five times.

In comparison, Labonte never finished lower than 26th the entire 2000 season and finished worse than 20th just twice.

Jarrett, however, isn’t making excuses as to why he didn’t give Labonte more of a run for the championship.

“There’s a lot that goes on with it,” Jarrett says about all the obligations that come along with being a Winston Cup champion. “We certainly had a very busy year in 2000, but there wasn’t anything that came from winning the Winston Cup championship in 1999 that kept us from repeating in 2000.

“We just simply didn't perform well enough. I talked a lot about the tires, but that wasn’t the problem. It was our fault for not finding the combination that really worked week-in and week-out like a number of the guys did. We’ve got to do a little bit better of a job in that aspect.

“Bobby Labonte and his team are experienced enough that they know how to win it and they’ll be very good again in 2001. They’ll have a chance at the championship. Bobby will be busy everyday, but that still won’t keep him from doing his job and being able to challenge for the championship.”

Yates admits he knew trying to defend the title would be a tall order, but for different reasons than what actually happened.

“After winning the championship, we knew people would be coming after our people,” Yates says. “We had a great opportunity last year, even though we ended up short of another championship.”

This season will begin a bit differently for Jarrett as he trades in the familiar red, white and blue paint scheme for a new brown, yellow and white look that goes along with the high-dollar sponsorship of UPS.

Some speculate the new contract is the most lucrative sponsorship deal in Winston Cup history, although Jarrett will neither confirm nor deny the rumor. UPS’ involvement, however, has helped Robert Yates Racing put more money into the 88 team, giving Jarrett more confidence heading into the 2001 campaign.

“I don’t know the figures of the new deal,” Jarrett says. “Robert Yates knows what it takes, and the cost is going up. As we add more races and as this sport gets more technically advanced, it creates more positions for more people, more engineers and to make all of this happen, the costs are certainly rising.

“It's amazing to go to our race shops and see what’s taking place since I went there in 1995, and then in 1996 when we ran the two teams out of one very small space. The engine shop was the biggest part of the whole place. Now, it still is, but we have a lot more room for everything else. It’s just incredible the amount of money that it takes to make all of this work.

"Even with the dollars that we talk about, it’s still much cheaper than it is to be involved in any other major-league sport, with the payrolls they have. We’re just kind of catching up in that respect, we’re finally getting caught up in the television side of it, and the sport is getting to the point where it’s very healthy.

“Obviously, UPS sees this as something that could be very beneficial to them and we’re excited to have them on board. We realize it makes us very high profile, but we thought we were that anyway. It’s only going to open up doors for other sponsors, people that do have major dollars to become involved in our sport. It takes every dollar to make all of this happen.”

Jarrett will have the opportunity in less than a month to show if UPS made the right call, as the new television package will potentially bring NASCAR into a lot of homes that haven’t embraced the sport of stock-car racing. As if teams needed any extra incentive to perform well in the Daytona 500, this year’s season-opener will be the initial opportunity for many across the country to learn about NASCAR racing.

“Ever since I got to Robert Yates Racing, the Daytona 500 was not only the biggest race from NASCAR’s standpoint, but it was the biggest race from Robert Yates Racing’s standpoint,” Jarrett says. “We realize there are 35 other races in 2001, but we get excited because we know we have an opportunity to go there and win. Since I’ve been driving at Robert Yates, there hasn’t been a year that I truly didn’t have a chance to win the race. We had cars good enough each and every time to win, and we’ve either won the race or wrecked trying to do it.

“It’s exciting for us to know the sport has come to this point. I’ve found it pretty cool to be sitting around over the holidays watching football and seeing them talking about the Daytona 500 coming up. That’s something we’ve never had before. That’s exciting for us to know that we’re gathering those new fans. There are people who have never been able to watch us because of the races being on cable or something and they haven’t had that chance. So now they’re getting that chance to watch it and really doing it in a big way. We’re seeing the sport being put in a different light that ever before.

“Now we have to make sure we do our job so we can reap the benefits. It should be just an incredible year from that standpoint.”

Maybe then Jarrett can regain the form that has earned him the nickname, “Mr. Consistency.” In turn, that could lead to a second Winston Cup championship.

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