DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Jarrett kept looking behind him, and the sight he saw made him cringe. The man in black, Dale Earnhardt, was on his bumper, looking for a way to victory in the 38th Daytona 500.
"I'd rather see anyone other than Earnhardt," said Jarrett. "Knowing his history, knowing how much he wants to win this race and not knowing what he was going to do -- or where he was going to do it -- it was nerve-racking."
There were 23 laps to go when Jarrett used a little push from Wally Dallenbach to pass Earnhardt for the lead. Twenty-three laps that seemed to take forever.
"When I beat him here in 1993, it was a lot different," Jarrett said. "In that race, I didn't pass him until Turn 1 of the last lap. That day, all I had to do was hold him off in Turns 3 and 4.
"This time, I had the toughest guy in the business behind me, and every single lap I knew he was thinking of a way to pass me. Today, I wasn't a better driver than Earnhardt. I just had a better car. I had a Robert Yates engine and he didn't."
And so for the second time in four years, Jarrett beat Earnhardt to the finish of the Daytona 500. Beat him by .12 of a second at an average speed of 154.308 mph. Beat him with a brand new team that hadn't even practiced pit stops.
And Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion, is 0-for-18 in the Daytona 500, where he has four second-place finishes -- in 1984, 1993, 1995 and 1996, the last three by a combined margin of .89 of a second.
For a long time yesterday, it appeared this was shaping up to be Earnhardt's race, as almost everyone who was stronger disappeared from contention.
Sterling Marlin's bid for a three-peat ended on Lap 75. Ernie Irvan's bid for his first Winston Cup victory since returning from severe head injuries ended on Lap 28. Jeff Gordon wrecked. Terry Labonte's carburetor misfired. John Andretti got a bad tire, lost a lap and got wrecked.
Only Jarrett stayed around.
"It's the Daytona 500," said Earnhardt, "We just didn't have enough for them. It was a super race and Dale and his guys did a good job, I reckon."
Earnhardt's guys did a good job early. On Lap 27, Earnhardt developed ignition problems and it was those problems that caused his car to lose its speed in Turn 4 and put Irvan in difficulty.
"[Earnhardt's car owner Richard] Childress said Earnhardt's ignition went out," said Irvan, who finished 35th. "I know something happened off 4. I thought he pushed real bad and I came up on him and I lifted [from the gas], and then it looked like, 'OK, now he's going again,' and then, right at the start-finish line, it was like he shut the switch off.
"I hit him and then [Wally Dallenbach] hit me from behind. Oh, well. You've got to worry about things you can change. It's not like there's anything you can do, you know."
When the caution came out, Earnhardt went to the pits and the crew changed his ignition box. He came out in 16th place, but nine laps later had worked his way back toward the front.
The circumstance Earnhardt couldn't overcome came with 40 laps to go. That's when his crew seemed to make Jarrett's job easier when it decided to put only two new tires on his Chevrolet, while Jarrett's team changed all four on its Ford.
By the time the race got down to that final lap, Earnhardt was fighting to keep the car low and his only hope was that Kenny Schrader, running third in a Chevrolet, would elect to follow his lead and create a power boost that would push them both past Jarrett.
But Schrader wasn't interested.
"I don't think we could have gotten round [Jarrett]," said Schrader, who finished third. "I moseyed down with him a little, but he didn't have anything for Jarrett. Jarrett was really fast. And it's not my responsibility to worry about where Dale Earnhardt finishes."
Childress was philosophical. "When it gets down to winning the Daytona 500, you don't have any buddies out there," he said.
In victory lane, Jarrett's team collected $362,775 and dealt with victory. There was a lot to celebrate.
Last season, while driving for Robert Yates and caretaking Irvan's ride, Jarrett took all the blame for the team's year-long struggles.
"He shouldered it all without complaint," said Yates. "He protected me and [crew chief Larry McReynolds], and he earned our respect and gratitude."
So when the Ford Motor Co. finally persuaded Yates to field a second team, he signed Jarrett to drive. And then Yates called Todd Parrott, son of longtime Winston Cup crew chief Buddy Parrott, who 20 years ago won his first race crewing for the 88 car, the same car Yates now fields for Jarrett.
Yesterday, Todd Parrott got his first victory as a crew chief.
"I think I was able to appreciate things more and enjoy them more in victory lane knowing what all was coming with this victory," said Jarrett. "It's more of a thrill. And knowing that a lot of people haven't won this race once and even fewer have won it twice, to be that fortunate, for me to have done it twice, I feel blessed -- especially with a new race team. . . . They were awesome."
And in the end, Dale Jarrett was, too, as he kept the man in black behind him.
1. (7) Dale Jarrett, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $362,775, 154.308. 2. (1) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 200, $215,065. 3. (4) Ken Schrader, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 200, $169,547. 4. (15) Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $118,840. 5. (16) Jeff Burton, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $92,702. 6. (9) Wally Dallenbach Jr., Ford Thunderbird, 200, $96,720. 7. (20) Ted Musgrave, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $82,712. 8. (21) Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $76,155. 9. (10) Ricky Rudd, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $79,987. 10. (11) Michael Waltrip, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $74,255.
11. (19) Jimmy Spencer, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $66,105. 12. (34) Jeff Purvis, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 200, $52,262. 13. (36) Ricky Craven, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 200, $63,167. 14. (32) Lake Speed, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $60,445. 15. (23) Dave Marcis, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 200, $52,230. 16. (43) Rusty Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 200, $60,142. 17. (35) Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 200, $59,715. 18. (29) Kyle Petty, Pontiac Grand Prix, 199, $53,870. 19. (14) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford Thunderbird, 199, $46,482. 20. (39) Bobby Hamilton, Pontiac Grand Prix, 199, $53,740.
21. (33) Kenny Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 199, $40,685. 22. (42) Hut Stricklin, Ford Thunderbird, 199, $43,675. 23. (27) Johnny Benson Jr., Pontiac Grand Prix, 197, $51,775. 24. (5) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 196, $68,570. 25. (18) Elton Sawyer, Ford Thunderbird, 196, $40,572. 26. (13) Ward Burton, Pontiac Grand Prix, 195, $54,860. 27. (26) Steve Grissom, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 191, $49,437. 28. (31) Rick Mast, Pontiac Grand Prix, 190, $48,782. 29. (40) Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 180, engine failure, $48,220. 30. (25) Robert Pressley, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 171, handling, $48,265.
31. (12) Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird, 164, handling, $43,192. 32. (41) Brett Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 162, handling, $44,405. 33. (30) Chad Little, Pontiac Grand Prix, 158, crash, $37,687. 34. (38) Geoff Bodine, Ford Thunderbird, 157, crash, $44,120. 35. (2) Ernie Irvan, Ford Thunderbird, 145, $85,847. 36. (24) Loy Allen Jr., Ford Thunderbird, 135, crash, $37,192. 37. (17) Mike Wallace, Ford Thunderbird, 135, crash, $37,237. 38. (6) John Andretti, Ford Thunderbird, 128, crash, $57,152. 39. (37) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 86, handling, $43,302. 40. (3) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 81, handling, $43,302.
41. (22) Derrike Cope, Ford Thunderbird, 53, crash, $43,752. 42. (8) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 13, handling, $59,052. 43. (28) Dick Trickle, Ford Thunderbird, 9, engine failure, $36,552.
Time of race: 3 hours, 14 minutes, 25 seconds. Margin of victory: 0.12 seconds (2 1/2 car-lengths). Caution flags: 6 for 26 laps. Lead changes: 32 among 15 drivers. Lap leaders: Irvan 1-2; Schrader 3-4; Earnhardt 5-18; T.Labonte 19-22; Earnhardt 23-25; T.Labonte 26; Jarrett 27-28; T.Labonte 29; Pressley 30-33; M.Waltrip 34; Mayfield 35; Jarrett 36-37; T.Labonte 38-55; Stricklin 56; T.Labonte 57-76; Marlin 77-79; Andretti 80-93; Schrader 94-100; Andretti 101-109; Spencer 110; Elliott 111-131; B.Bodine 132; Elliott 133-140; Jarrett 141-144; Earnhardt 145-151; Jarrett 152-159; Earnhardt 160; Craven 161-166; Earnhardt 161-171; Schrader 172-174; Earnhardt 175-176; Jarrett 177-200. Series point leaders: Jarrett 180; Earnhardt 175; Schrader 170; Martin 160; J.Burton 155; Dallenbach 150; Elliott 147; Musgrave 146; M.Waltrip 139; Rudd 138; Spencer 135; Craven 129; Purvis 127; Speed 121; Marcis 118.