MIS Magical For Jarrett Woods

Eleven years ago, Dale Jarrett and the Wood Brothers put on quite a show at Michigan International Speedway.

Jarrett, who had recently told his car owners that he was leaving for another team, out-dueled Davey Allison in a thrilling finish at Michigan’s 2-mile to win his first career NASCAR Winston Cup race.

Jarrett has won two other times at Michigan and came a close second to Matt Kenseth in the Sirius Satellite Radio 400 in June.

The Wood Brothers, meanwhile, haven’t been so fortunate. They’ve only won twice period since Jarrett’s victory, and their current driver, Elliott Sadler, told them he was leaving at the end of the year. Sound familiar?

“Dale had told us that he was leaving to go with Joe Gibbs at that time, but we still won that race,” co-owner Eddie Wood said. “We have similar circumstances now, but we know how to win there. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

Sadler qualified seventh but finish 26th at Michigan earlier this year. Jarrett, meanwhile, was strong throughout the weekend, winning the pole and nearly winning the race. With fresher tires, Jarrett was chasing Kenseth down when the checkered flag fell.

“We had a great race car when we were here in June,” Jarrett said. “I just needed one more corner, and I think I could have had the win. The four tires we got on the last pit stop made all the difference because our car was so much faster than with the new tires.”

Jarrett is pretty fast at Michigan, too. He put a whipping on the Winston Cup field there in 1999, leading 150 of the 200 laps and running away with the victory. He also won there in 1996.

“The one thing that hasn’t changed much at Michigan is the track,” Jarrett said. “Even as we’ve changed tires and chassis, the way that you drive this race track hasn’t really changed that much. You’ll change the way that you drive this track throughout the 400 miles on Sunday because there are going to be times that the bottom of the race track is going to be the quickest way around.

“We’ll probably move up to about the middle of the track, and then possibly the quick way around might even get to the very top of the race track. Obviously, our speeds are a little quicker than what they were back when I first won at Michigan, but the way that you drive and the things that you do are pretty much the same.”

Michigan is one of those tracks that has plenty of room to maneuver, making passing a little easier than some tracks. Starting up front isn’t as important at Michigan than at some other places.

“The thing I enjoy so much about Michigan is that I honestly feel that if I started 43rd here, that I could win this race as long as we have a good race car,” Jarrett said. “You can run on the bottom and you can run on the top and anywhere in between, so I think that’s why most guys would classify this as one of their favorite tracks. If it’s not their favorite track, it has to be near the top.”

The same can be said for car owners. The Wood Brothers have a stellar record at Michigan, winning 11 races – nine by David Pearson, one by Cale Yarborough and one by Jarrett. That’s more than any other owner.

Glen Wood, one of the team’s co-founders, was asked about some of his fondest memories over the 50-plus years he’s been in the sport, and the Jarrett victory was at the top of the list.

“We hadn’t won a race in quite a while, but we’d been running fairly well up there at the last,” Wood said. “Near the end of that race we got a good set of tires on it and got the car adjusted right, and they had a caution with about 10 or 12 laps to go. Everybody shoots down pit road. Dale wanted to know if he was supposed to come in, and Eddie said, ‘Well, you’re running better now than you have on any set of tires we’ve had all day,’ and so they just sort of talked about it on the radio and they decided to just stay out.

“So he stayed out. Ned (Jarrett, Dale’s father) was up there in the (television) booth, and he said he thought they might have made a mistake. The race restarted, and he took off pretty well and got on out there. In about two laps, Ned said, ‘Maybe they are all right, maybe they know something.’ ”

Allison, like Jarrett earlier this season, was moving in on Jarrett. The two were close on the white-flag lap, but the Wood Brothers couldn’t see the battle.

“They are going down the backstretch, and we didn’t know what was happening back there,” Glen Wood said. “We couldn’t see it, and we didn’t have a TV in the pits. The crowd was on their feet and everything, and (Jarrett) wasn’t saying anything. He had his hands full I know. … Davey was the one that had the new tires on, but it made him push for a little while until he got going. When they come off Turn 4 they were side-by-side, and they touched a little bit, and Jarrett got him by maybe a foot. It was so close he didn’t know for sure, but he thought he won. We didn’t know, but he said he won it.”

Could we see a repeat performance in this weekend’s Pepsi 400?

“I think our program just keeps getting better and better,” Eddie Wood said. “We keep learning things along the way, and even though the last couple of races have not produced the results we would like to see, we were kind of on a roll earlier this season, and I believe Michigan could put us back on that roll.

“We qualified well last time, and we raced pretty well. We’re taking a different car back. There’s some stuff we learned at Pocono that worked well there so we are going to apply it for this race. It’s a little bit different that what we had in the car the first race there this year, and we’re hoping that the car will race better. So we decided to take a different car. It’s not a brand-new car, but it is a car that has a similar aero package as the car we took before, but the chassis is different. We were too tight in June, and hopefully this package will help the car to turn better.”

And maybe the Wood Brothers will see a repeat performance. Then again, maybe Jarrett will, too.

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