At the Pepsi 400, Dale Jarrett kept rolling toward the Winston Cup title
Only halfway through the season, Dale Jarrett is looking more and more like a lock to take the Winston Cup. By winning last Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Jarrett increased his Cup lead over Bobby Labonte, who finished fifth, to 177 points. Jarrett's Ford Taurus is running so strong that it would take a series of flukes for him to lose the championship.
The Pepsi win was Jarrett's third of the season, in which he has 15 top 10 finishes in 17 races. "Those are Jeff Gordon- Ray Evernham-type numbers," says Jarrett, referring to the driver and crew chief tandem that has won three of the last four Winston Cups.
"We've got a lot of confidence," Jarrett says of himself and his Todd Parrott-led crew. They showed it under fire on Saturday when Parrott ordered only a four-second splash of fuel and no tire change on Jarrett's final pit stop, with 17 laps remaining on the 2�-mile track. As a result Jarrett went back out with the lead, and he had just enough gas to finish. After taking the checkered flag, he ran out of fuel on the backstretch.
Because of a crash, the final three laps were run under caution, so Dale Earnhardt motored helplessly behind the pace car and Jarrett. Earnhardt believes he could have muscled his Chevrolet Monte Carlo into the lead had the race finished under green, but Jarrett disagreed, noting that in the laps before the final caution, "I could see behind me that Earnhardt wasn't getting much of a push [aerodynamically] from anybody. I was able to keep him where I needed to keep him."
In each of the past six seasons, the Winston Cup points leader at the halfway point has gone on to win the title. The throngs of Gordon boo-birds who are sick of seeing him dominate the series can rest assured that a new champion will be crowned in '99. None of the current top four in the standings—Jarrett, Labonte, Mark Martin and Jeff Burton—have won the Winston Cup. Gordon is fifth, a whopping 394 points behind Jarrett, and a driver hasn't come from that far back at the halfway point to win the title since Richard Petty in 1972.
IRL Looking At Fenders
If the track magnate who hosts five of the Indy Racing League's 11 events gets his way, Indy cars could be sporting fenders as early as next year. If fenders aren't added, Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith won't rule out discontinuing IRL races on his tracks near Atlanta, Charlotte, Fort Worth (two events) and Las Vegas.
"I don't want to go there—yet," Smith said last week when asked if he would continue to stage IRL races with open-wheel cars. Smith says his primary concern is safety. It was at his Lowe's Motor Speedway, near Charlotte, that three spectators were killed and eight others injured by a flying tire and other debris during an IRL race on May 1. At all six of Smith's tracks, NASCAR racing is the main source of revenue. Smith has seen how stock cars' fenders help contain wheels and tires that break off in crashes.
However, racing-safety experts speaking on the condition of anonymity told SI that putting fenders on Indy cars could create an even greater danger: airborne cars. The designs developed in a project headed by Smith's right-hand man, Lowe's Motor Speedway president HA Wheeler, are similar to those of Le Mans-prototype sports cars. On June 12 at Le Mans, a Mercedes-Benz sports car kited about 60 feet into the air and flipped five times. Last October at Road Atlanta, a Porsche prototype did a high-flying backflip. The experts said that whenever aerodynamic downforce becomes greater on the rear of such a car than on the front, kiting is possible. Both accidents occurred on road courses, neither near a grandstand. Because IRL races are run on oval tracks, with grandstands in close proximity, kiting could be disastrous.