Jarrett Takes Darlington Win

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DARLINGTON, S.C. – More often than not in NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition, the name of the game is patience. It’s considered the dividing line between the great drivers and the ones who want to be.

Dale Jarrett turned in one of those great efforts Sunday afternoon when he won the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway… with what he termed as “not the best car out there.”

The best car, Jarrett said, belonged to second-place finisher Steve Park, who led 164 laps of 293 in Sunday’s race, but came up short at the checkered flag.

“I had to be patient,” Jarrett said. “I knew our car was good, and what I couldn’t make up on the track my crew would make up for me in the pits. They did just an incredible job all day, and that’s what won us the race because the best car didn’t win.”

It was Jarrett’s third victory at Darlington, but without question his most rewarding after he and his Robert Yates Racing team, led by crew chief Todd Parrott, parlayed early problems in the pits into a victory – and the Winston Cup points lead.

Jarrett now leads the points standings by 65 over Sterling Marlin and Johnny Benson. He’s 95 points ahead of fourth-place Jeff Gordon.

While leading early on, Jarrett radioed to Parrott he had a tire going flat just prior to a restart. He came into the pits before the green flag was thrown, but returned to the track way back in the field.

Jarrett maintained his focus and began picking cars off one at a time. Then, while running second to Park, a late caution flag allowed Jarrett to close a substantial gap between he and Park before the field came into the pits for one final round of service.

Jarrett’s crew helped him barely beat Park out, and from that point on, Park was never able to mount a serious challenge for the lead.

A fiery Lap 281 crash involving Mike Skinner in Turn 3 at the 1.366-mile track prompted NASCAR officials to throw a 10-minute red flag so the wrecked cars of Skinner and Terry Labonte could be removed.

Neither Skinner nor Labonte was seriously injured in the accident.

Jarrett had a great restart, pulling out to a huge lead, and was able to hold off the hard-charging Park by .527 seconds. The win was Ford’s first of the 2001 season, and the rest of the Top 5 consisted of Jeremy Mayfield, Jimmy Spencer and Marlin.

“Patience is what everybody talks about when we come here, that you’ve got to race the track and not the other cars,” Jarrett explained. “Some drivers do that and some don’t, but you have to be patient. You have to realize these races are long, and when you have a good car and your crew is good, eventually you’re going to work your way back into contention.

“So, it was easy to take care of the car, and I knew with the combination I had there was plenty of time. Patience is something you have to use at Darlington, whether you’re in the lead or not.”

There was little doubt either Park or Gordon – who ran 1-2 for most the day - had the race’s most dominant car. Gordon, though, had engine problems and was unable to finish the 400-miler. He finished 40th.

Park remained in command until the yellow flag was thrown on Lap 276, allowing the field to close the gap.

“The way that last caution flag fell, it hurt us,” Park said. “We’re all real disappointed, but we’re going to win and lose races like this in the future. My car was set up for long green-flag runs, and Dale Jarrett had the advantage on us once he was able to get out in front of us.

“If we would have come out first, he would have had a tough time getting around us. It was just one of those days when we had the tables turned on us, but this team is really starting to run well at some of the tracks we’ve never run well at before. This is all a part of the growing process for us, but to lose with just a few laps to go like that is disappointing.”

One driver with no complaints on Sunday was Mayfield, who has had a bitterly disappointing season.

“The way we’ve been running this year, this feels like a win to us,” said Mayfield, who moved from 40th to 28th in the Winston Cup points standings. “We’ve had a tough start to the year with all kinds of things going on, but we did a good job today. We’re on our way back and starting to show what this team is made of. Maybe we took some things for granted over the winter, but now it’s time for us to get to work. If we can do that, we’re going to be strong.

“The main thing for us is, no matter what, we need to start finishing these races. We know we have a quick car, now we need to start finishing things up.”

For a while Sunday, it looked as if Spencer might be in a position to make a visit to victory lane for the first time since 1994. That just didn’t materialize in the closing miles.

“We’re learning a lot as a team,” Spencer said after his best finish of the 2001 season. “We didn’t make any mistakes today and we came home with a Top 5. Toward the end, we didn’t want to see that caution flag come out because it probably cost us third, but I’m sure the No. 1 (of Park) didn’t want to see the yellow either. But that’s all a part of it.”

Marlin’s fifth-place finish continues a strong start for the Dodge driver who finished 19th in points in 2000.

“That last set of tires was the worst we had all day,” Marlin said. “We were as good as anybody, but we just couldn’t do anything on that last set of tires. I can guarantee you, if we have a car this good every week, we’re going to win one soon.”

The Winston Cup Series returns to action next Sunday in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in the first short-track race of the season. Rusty Wallace is the defending race winner.

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