Said Earnhardt in an ironic singsong, "I didn't win again." Then he threw up his hands and smiled. "What the heck."
While Earnhardt was bemoaning yet another last-second loss, Gibbs was enjoying his trip to the winner's circle. "This is a Super Bowl, and the feeling is exactly the same," said Gibbs. "The only difference is, I didn't have nearly as much to do with this win. My job when this team plays is to stay out of the way and pray."
While Gibbs had not spoken a word to Jarrett through his headset, Jarrett's father, Ned, a two-time Winston Cup champion, had tried his best to coach his son from his vantage point as a CBS color commentator. Ned unabashedly cheered Dale on while calling the race's final laps. "I thought for a moment he could hear what I was saying," said Ned. "I said, 'Get up under Earnhardt and get him loose!' and that's exactly what he did."
Seven caution flags—one brought out by Rusty Wallace's horrific crash on Lap 168—slowed Jarrett's winning average speed to 154.972 mph. The bodywork on Wallace's Pontiac disintegrated as it tumbled down the backstretch, but the roll cage remained intact, and the driver walked away from the wreck.
"I'm thankful Rusty's O.K.," said Dale Jarrett, a religious man who had warmed quickly to the equally devout Gibbs when the two met, in 1991. Gibbs, admittedly a novice at evaluating driving talent, had interviewed several other drivers, including two-time Daytona 500 winner Bill Elliott. But Gibbs had a hunch about Jarrett. "I didn't consider it a gamble," Gibbs said, "because I felt that he was on the verge of doing something big."