Pocono Sweep In Jarretts Plans

Only five races have been run since the last time the NASCAR Winston Cup cars showed up at Pocono Raceway. You’d figured that winner Dale Jarrett would have a big advantage this time around, given the closeness of the two races.

But in the last 15 years, only once has one driver won both events at Pocono’s 2.5-mile triangle-shaped track. That was in 1999, when Bobby Labonte went back-to-back.

Perhaps Jarrett doesn’t have much of an advantage after all. And remember, Jarrett was running second to Ricky Rudd late in the race until Rudd cut down a tire.

Still, Jarrett is looking forward to going back there for this weekend’s Pennsylvania 500. Qualifying is set for 3 p.m. Friday.

“It’s a place we’ve performed well over the years, so we’re looking forward to going back,” Jarrett said. “It’s been kind of a place that when we’ve been struggling we can always say, ‘Good, we’re coming to Pocono.’ So we know we have a chance.”

He’ll have more than a “chance.” The race-winning setup will return, and the track shouldn’t have changed too much since June 9.

“There’s probably not as much difference as a lot of places that we go, but it’s still gonna change because it’s had another race on it,” Jarrett said. “You know it’s gonna be a little bit different, and the prospects of it being hotter this time is probably there, so there are gonna be some difference, but it shouldn’t be as major as other places we encounter.”

Jarrett’s record at Pocono is impressive. Between 1991 and 2000, Jarrett finished in the Top 10 in the Pocono 500 10 straight times. That streak was broken last year when he crashed last year.

In the Pennsylvania 500, Jarrett has two victories, and since winning in Robert Yates Racing’s No. 28 in 1995, he has an average finish of eighth in the second race.

Jarrett has led 16 races and 476 laps in 31 total events at Pocono.

Does Jarrett know something about that track?

“It’s about handling and knowing your strengths, and, obviously, our strength is our horsepower, and it’s a very good place to take advantage of that,” Jarrett said. “We have to look at where we can utilize that the most, so we find those corners to where the horsepower is gonna be able to mean the most to us, and that’s what we worked the hardest on with our car, and we’ve been able to do that.

“We’ve found a very good balance with our cars at Pocono, so I look for Ricky and I to both be strong there again.”

Jarrett has had a string of good runs recently, bouncing back from a first-half slump that had him as low as 24th in the NASCAR Winston Cup points standings. Since a fifth-place finish at Dover the week before he won Pocono, Jarrett has moved to 11th in the points – and that includes a 35th-place result at Daytona when Jarrett crashed.

In the last seven races, Jarrett has a victory, a second, a third and a fifth.

“I’m doing fine,” Jarrett said. “I just wish we were running better, that’s the biggest thing. All of it would be fine if we’d run well. We get to where we’re busy building cars, and we need to get some time to test. We’ve got to work that in somehow. If we do that, we should be able to run well, and everything will be fine.”

Especially heading to Pocono. Especially when he’s the most recent winner.

“Pocono has always been a good place for me, especially since I came to Robert Yates Racing,” Jarrett said. “I started driving for Robert in ‘95 with the 28 car. We came here for Pocono’s second race in ’95, and things hadn’t gone as we had planned then up to that point, and we were able to win, so that kind of turned things around there. And it’s just been a good race track for me. I enjoy the challenge that it presents.

“We had a good car there in June. We’re taking a different car this weekend, but it should be just as good. It’s a brand new race car that’s identical to the one we won with in June. I think several people will be tough to beat there with my teammate Ricky Rudd being first on that list. Unfortunately Ricky had a little bad luck there in June, but I think he’ll be tough again this week. I think last year’s winner Bobby Labonte and his teammate, Tony Stewart, will be tough as well.”

Staff Writer Lee Montgomery can be reached at lee.montgomery@rmg3.com

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