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Motor Sports
Ed Hinton
August 16, 1999
Fingers CrossedAfter two near misses, Team Yates has a Winston Cup title in sight
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August 16, 1999

Motor Sports

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Fingers Crossed
After two near misses, Team Yates has a Winston Cup title in sight

You'll pardon popular team owner Robert Yates if he's pessimistic about his chances of winning his first Winston Cup, even though his driver, Dale Jarrett, is running away with the points race just as he ran away with last Saturday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Twice before, Yates has seen a driver of his mount a run at the tide—and twice the outcome has been heartbreaking.

In 1992 a wreck in the season finale at Atlanta cost Davey Allison the title, and he was killed in a helicopter crash the following July. A devastated Yates then hired Ernie Irvan, who restored the team's spirits. "We were on our way to winning the championship in '94," Yates says, and then his voice trailed off. That August, Irvan suffered life-threatening injuries in a crash during practice at Michigan International Speedway. Now, said Yates, "I expect the worst, and if things work out, fine."

Yates, long considered to be the savviest engine builder in stock car racing, remains the horsepower guru for all of NASCAR. The Ford engine in Jarrett's car generates "really close to 800 horsepower," Yates acknowledges reluctantly but with a slight smile that betrays his pride. That's at least 40 more than his rivals' engines, and it showed on Saturday. Jarrett led for 117 of the 160 laps, and even when he relinquished the lead for brief periods, he appeared able to take it back any time he chose. "I had such a strong engine that when I really needed to go, I could come off Turn 2 or Turn 4 onto the straightaways and stretch it out a little bit," Jarrett said after his victory.

Said Jeff Gordon, who won the Brickyard and the Winston Cup last year but finished third on Saturday, "I think the Yates team has things clicking even better than we did last year. They know when to settle for a top five finish and when they're capable of winning."

Jarrett's victory, worth $712,240, was his fourth this season and extended his points lead to 274 over second-place Mark Martin, who ran fourth in the Brickyard. "I don't want anybody to wake me up," said Jarrett. "It's as good as it can get right now."

All Things Not Being Equal

Cart and the Indy Racing League appeared to be on the brink of unification last week when negotiations were blown offtrack by Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and IRL founder Tony George, who said, "I don't think there's going to be any kind of unification for 2000. I think 2001 is questionable."

A sticking point is the implementation of an equivalency formula—essentially the mechanical handicapping of one league's engines—that would be necessary until the two entities' vastly different sets of technical rules could be standardized. George said last Friday he's against equivalency "absolutely. Period. That will not happen."

His statement was baffling because equivalency formulas have often been used in the Indy 500, so insiders on both sides think George was merely posturing in hopes of improving his leverage at the bargaining table. If he wasn't, major American open-wheel racing, which has been on life support with dwindling attendance and TV ratings since its civil war began in 1995, has virtually no chance of recovery.

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