DARLINGTON, S.C. - Dale Jarrett's car wasn't fast enough to get around Steve Park on the race track at the Darlington Raceway Sunday afternoon. So he made the pass the only place he could - on pit road.
Jarrett's pit crew was one second quicker in a final pit stop for tires and gas with 15 laps to go, and that second was all the time he needed to put his UPS Ford Taurus out front for good in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.
He became the fifth different winner of the 2001 season and the first driver who wasn't in a Chevrolet to visit Victory Lane this year. Yet Jarrett said the win was more of a fluke than a perfectly executed balance of speed and precession.
"The best car didn't win," he said after earning $214,612. "Everything just went our way. We were a good race team with a good race car, but we still needed everything to go our way. We needed circumstances. You appreciate the days when you can win when you have a second- or third-place car."
For Jarrett to win, he needed to rebound from an extra pit stop early in the race to tighten three lug nuts; he needed Jeff Gordon to have problems; he needed a fast stop late in the race to get around Park; and he needed the race to become a 15-lap sprint.
He got all four and beat Park by 50 yards.
Park dominated the race by leading four times for 164 of 293 laps. But his Chevrolet was built to be stronger on long runs around the 52-year-old, 1.366-mile raceway. When Jarrett's pit crew changed all four tires and added gasoline in just 14.2 seconds with 15 laps to go, a day of domination turned into pure frustration.
"We knew we were in trouble," Park said. "We're a little disappointed with second. We struggled the first 20 laps of a run. With 10 or 15 laps to go and you're out front, you have an advantage. It's so hard to pass. This is real disappointing."
While the final pit stop propelled Jarrett to his 25th career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory, his first stop almost killed his chances. A crewman failed to tighten three lug nuts on the left-front tire, and it forced Jarrett to make an additional stop that dropped him to 34th.
Jarrett, who also took the leadin the point standings, spent the next 150 miles methodically working his way through traffic. His crew helped him gain as many as five positions twice during pit stops, and the driver did most of the rest.
"When it counted, they made up for their mistake," crew chief Todd Parrott said. "I said I needed a caution with 15 or 16 laps to go and somebody must have been listening to me. (Winning the race off pit road), that was our only shot at winning. As good as the pit crew was all day long, although we stumbled that one stop, if you put pressure on them, I knew they'd pull it off."
As Jarrett worked his way back into contention, Gordon's car hiccupped a puff of steam and started to unravel. He squeezed 43 more laps out of his ailing car before the engine finally stopped running for good, 65 laps short of the finish line. Gordon led three times for 72 laps before the engine problems.
All that remained was Park.
"I knew I had plenty of time," Jarrett said of his recovery from 34th place. "At the end, if he would have beaten me off pit road, I'm not saying I couldn't have passed him, but it would have been difficult. Whoever got off pit road first had the best chance to win."
During the final stop, which came during a caution period for debris along the backstretch, Jarrett was never more ready to win the drag race off pit road.
"I had it revved up to 7,000 (rpms)," he said. "I knew that was our chance. I was keyed up. Our guys practiced their pit stops three times a week during the off-season, sometimes in the dead of winter. This is the payoff."
Jeremy Mayfield rebounded from a 37th starting position to finish third, while Jimmy Spencer wound up fourth. Sterling Marlin was fifth, followed by John Andretti in sixth, Johnny Benson in seventh, Ricky Rudd in eighth, Bobby Hamilton in ninth and Rusty Wallace in 10th.
Jarrett averaged 126.558 mph. The race was slowed seven times for 38 laps for cautions and 10 minutes, 30 seconds for a red flag period after a fiery crash involving Mike Skinner and Terry Labonte with 12 laps remaining.
Skinner's car was pinched into the outside wall in the third turn by Wallace. Skinner's car veered left to the track apron, then back across the track where it hit the wall trunk-first. A couple of seconds later, his Chevrolet was engulfed in flames.
The driver emerged quickly from the car wearing the Head and Neck Support (HANS) device, which was designed to reduce the effects of whiplash injuries. Skinner was not injured.
1. (2) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 293 laps, $214,612.
2. (13) Steve Park, Chevrolet, 293, $105,173.
3. (37) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, 293, $98,049.
4. (23) Jimmy Spencer, Ford, 293, $83,640.
5. (5) Sterling Marlin, Dodge, 293, $68,998.
6. (34) John Andretti, Dodge, 293, $86,402.
7. (4) Johnny Benson, Pontiac, 293, $50,670.
8. (10) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 293, $71,187.
9. (12) Bobby Hamilton, Chevrolet, 293, $47,460.
10. (9) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 293, $82,170.
11. (26) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 293, $90,927.
12. (21) Ward Burton, Dodge, 293, $70,930.
13. (11) Ken Schrader, Pontiac, 293, $51,751.
14. (3) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 293, $81,487.
15. (17) Robert Pressley, Ford, 293, $51,870.
16. (14) Tony Stewart, Pontiac, 293, $53,735.
17. (19) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 293, $47,265.
18. (36) Jeff Burton, Ford, 292, $78,216.
19. (30) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 292, $43,640.
20. (8) Jerry Nadeau, Chevrolet, 292, $47,170.
21. (25) Mark Martin, Ford, 292, $76,606.
22. (33) Dave Blaney, Dodge, 292, $34,740.
23. (7) Bill Elliott, Dodge, 292, $59,148.
24. (22) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 291, $62,380.
25. (6) Michael Waltrip, Chevrolet, 291, $41,795.
26. (32) Casey Atwood, Dodge, 291, $30,685.
27. (20) Ricky Craven, Ford, 290, $30,500.
28. (42) Hut Stricklin, Ford, 290, $30,345.
29. (38) Robby Gordon, Chevrolet, 288, $33,140.
30. (27) Kurt Busch, Ford, 288, $41,010.
31. (41) Kenny Wallace, Pontiac, 287, $29,855.
32. (35) Mike Wallace, Ford, 287, $37,725.
33. (28) Todd Bodine, Ford, 285, $29,545.
34. (16) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 285, $64,138.
35. (43) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 285, $29,285.
36. (31) Brett Bodine, Ford, 284, $29,155.
37. (15) Mike Skinner, Chevrolet, 281, crash, $61,374.
38. (18) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 280, crash, $61,655.
39. (40) Jason Leffler, Dodge, 263, handling, $36,800.
40. (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 228, engine failure, $85,052.
41. (39) Buckshot Jones, Dodge, 214, engine failure, $36,500.
42. (24) Ron Hornaday Jr, Pontiac, 149, crash, $28,375.
43. (29) Stacy Compton, Dodge, 113, crash, $28,267.
Time of Race: 3 hours, 9 minutes, 45 seconds.
Margin of Victory: 0.527.
Caution Flags: 7 for 38 laps.
Lead Changes: 12 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: J.Gordon 1-47; D.Jarrett 48; S.Marlin 49-61; S.Park 62-116; M.Martin 117; J.Gordon 118-132; S.Park 133-136; J.Gordon 137-146; S.Park 147-198; J.Spencer 199-200; J.Benson 201-225; S.Park 226-278; D.Jarrett 279-293.
Point Leaders: D.Jarrett 756; S.Marlin 691; J.Benson 691; J.Gordon 661; S.Park 615; R.Rudd 609; R.Wallace 606; M.Waltrip 597; B.Elliott 589; K.Schrader 585.
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