LONG POND, Pa. -- Dale Jarrett turned the Pennsylvania 500 Winston Cup stock car race into his own private party yesterday. No one came close to matching his performance and he drove his Ford as smoothly as if he were simply out for a Sunday afternoon drive in the mountains.
"He was in a different class," said Jeff Gordon, who finished second, 2.9 seconds behind. "We got better with every pit stop, but we didn't have anything for Dale."
No one did.
That came as something of a surprise to Jarrett. Yes, he led 108 of the 200 laps here on Pocono International Raceway's 2.5 mile tri-oval. And, yes, his engine was superb and his crew made fine decisions when it counted to make sure he came home a winner.
But it had been a relatively long time since Jarrett was in victory lane. Since the last of his two previous victories this season at Darlington, S.C., in March, he has had to look at a lot of rear bumpers -- including last week in Loudon, N.H., when a single spark plug malfunction relegated him to a 38th-place finish.
Yesterday, when Jarrett crossed the finish line first, crew chief Todd Parrott came on the two-way radio and told him to take a look at the roll bar on his right.
"We put a little something over there for you, a little inspiration," said Parrott.
"I got you," he said. "I see it."
What he saw was a small gold cross taped to the door.
"It was a little good luck charm that the crew found lying on the ground in front of our car in the garage Saturday," Jarrett said. "No one knew who it belonged to or where it came from, but Todd had it taped to the roll bar. We figured we could use everything in everybody's power to help us today."
Much of the power came from the engine that purred at an average speed of 142.127 mph. And the good finish developed as much from Parrott and Jarrett sticking to their game plan during the final pit stop as it did from divine inspiration.
When then-leader Ted Musgrave made his last stop with 37 laps to go, he took on just two tires in a zippy 13.9 seconds.
"Todd radioed what Ted had done, just as I was about to come down pit road," said Jarrett. "He asked if I wanted just two, but I could hear in his voice that that wasn't what he wanted and I said, 'No, let's go with four, the way we planned.'
"I figured our car was too good to risk taking a chance by doing something different from what we'd done all day. I also figured our left side tires were pretty well worn, anyway. And because of the nature of this track, its difficult turns and the slickness of the surface, four tires is pretty much the rule here."
Musgrave, whose final pit stop cost him dearly, finished fourth after his tires went away and a chassis adjustment turned his Ford from being a possible winner into a non-contender.
"It was like a completely different car," he said. "It was so loose Jeff Burton came over a minute ago and said he had no idea how I was able to drive it at all."
Burton passed Musgrave to finish third.
Despite finishing second, Gordon could celebrate re-claiming the top spot in the Winston Cup championship standings, with a 64-point advantage.
Jarrett won $104,570 yesterday to bring his season earnings to $1,437,419, but it was Gordon who passed a major plateau. He collected $56,745, bringing his season total to $2,054,724 just two races past the season's halfway point.
Last week's leader, defending champion Terry Labonte, had a terrible finish, ending the day 34th after his brother Bobby ran into the rear of his car and caused a huge melee in turn three on lap 127. That episode allowed Gordon and Mark Martin, who finished fifth, to jump ahead of him in the points race.
The accident also ended Dale Earnhardt's hopes of victory. Earnhardt crew chief Larry McReynolds had put him in position for a top finish with a timely pit stop for just seven laps earlier. But when the Labonte brothers crashed, Earnhardt, who dived as low into the grass as he could to avoid the spinning cars, was caught by Terry Labonte and turned a 360 of his own before continuing to the pits for repairs.
Earnhardt didn't lose a lap, and managed a 12th-place finish, but his car was never again as competitive as it had been before the crash and it made him less than happy.
"It's just one of them damn deals," Earnhardt said. "We were going good, consistent. We weren't really a ball of fire, but we were running up there all day. We lost some momentum, I think."
(Starting position in parentheses)
1. (4) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 200, $104,570
2. (6) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 200, $56,745
3. (20) Jeff Burton, Ford, 200, $44,195
4. (22) Ted Musgrave, Ford, 200, $39,070
5. (9) Mark Martin, Ford, 200, $36,040
6. (11) Mike Skinner, Chevrolet, 200, $21,690
7. (14) Jimmy Spencer, Ford, 200, $30,890
8. (34) Kyle Petty, Pontiac, 200, $19,090
9. (17) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, 200, $18,490
10. (15) Bill Elliott, Ford, 200, $28,240
11. (10) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 200, $28,340
12. (5) Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 200, $29,490
13. (40) Johnny Benson, Pontiac, 200, $25,990
14. (7) Ken Schrader, Chevrolet, 200, $23,690
15. (32) Ward Burton, Pontiac, 200, $24,490
16. (29) Derrike Cope, Pontiac, 200, $16,090
17. (38) Geoff Bodine, Ford, 200, $22,890
18. (37) Ricky Craven, Chevrolet, 200, $22,690
19. (27) Dick Trickle, Ford, 199, $15,440
20. (23) Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet, 199, $29,765
21. (1) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 199, $22,715
22. (25) Michael Waltrip, Ford, 199, $21,790
23. (24) Hut Stricklin, Ford, 199, $21,565
24. (13) John Andretti, Ford, 199, $21,415
25. (26) Rick Mast, Ford, 199, $21,840
26. (16) Darrell Waltrip, Chevrolet, 199, $20,790
27. (33) Morgan Shepherd, Ford, 199, $11,240
28. (36) Chad Little, Pontiac, 199, $11,190
29. (31) Brett Bodine, Ford, 198, $18,115
30. (12) Steve Grissom, Chevrolet, 198, $18,065
31. (8) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 197, $11,015
32. (28) Bobby Hamilton, Pontiac, 197, $25,965
33. (35) Jerry Nadeau, Pontiac, 197, $17,865
34. (18) Kenny Wallace, Ford, 195, $17,790
35. (21) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 193, $33,815
36. (19) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 192, engine fail., $25,640
37. (39) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 174, engine, $27,575
38. (3) W. Dallenbach, Chev., 158, engine, $10,450
39. (42) David Green, Chev., 157, engine, $10,450
40. (2) Ernie Irvan, Ford, 136, crash, $25,450
41. (41) Dave Marcis, Chev., 35, engine, $10,450
42. (30) Robby Gordon, 0, engine failure, $17,450.
Winner's average speed: 142.068.
Time of race: 3 hours, 31 minutes, 10 seconds.
Margin of victory: 2.99 seconds.
Caution flags: 4 for 18 laps.
Lead changes: 23 among 14 drivers.
Lap leaders: Nemechek 1-11, J. Gordon 12-36, Irvan 37, Spencer 38, G. Bodine 39-40, Gordon 41-54, Jarrett 55-72, Musgrave 73-75, Irvan 76-77, Gordon 78-83, Jarrett, 84-111, Musgrave 112-116, Jarrett 117-126, Gordon 127-133, Jarrett 134-164, Gordon 165, Martin 166, Benson 167, Petty 168-171, Elliott 172-173, Cope 174-175, Earnhardt 176-177, J. Burton 178-179, Jarrett 180-200.
Series points leaders: J. Gordon 2,669, Martin 2,605, T. Labonte 2,555, Jarrett 2,517, J. Burton 2,468, Earnhardt 2,415, B. Labonte 2,241.
Pub Date: 7/21/97