Twenty-four seasons. Thirty-two victories. A championship in 1999. About $56-million in earnings. One Saddam mustache, long-since gone. One last ride in the big brown truck. Dale Jarrett contests his last points race at NASCAR's elite level Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, then turns over the No. 44 Toyota to Zephyrhills' David Reutimann. ¶ As with many former drivers, the 51-year-old Hickory, N.C., product won't get too far away, remaining in an analyst position he has shown great aptitude for, much like his father and two-time series champion, Ned. ¶ Jarrett reflected on pulling off the helmet for the final time in a points race (he'll contest the All-Star race), when times were strokin' and speaking your mind.
Is it hard to grip that this will be your last points race?
When we were talking about this earlier in the year, it didn't seem like it was that bad, but now the time is arriving and more meaningful events that really mean something to myself and to Michael Waltrip Racing, Sunday is going to be it.
When was it the most fun to be a race car driver?
The early '90s were fun. Even though I wasn't as competitive as far as the driving side of it at that time, I think those cars were fun. I think that we really got hooked into some things starting, to me, in around 1995. It seemed that aerodynamically we paid a lot more attention and (were) making a lot of changes there that can really make the difference of how a car felt.
And from '95 through I would say about 2000, maybe even I'll go through 2001, that was really an era, and that was easy for me to say because I was having a lot of success at that time.
Do you have any problem when a driver like Tony Stewart flames a manufacturer like he did Goodyear at Atlanta this week?
I have no problem with what Tony Stewart said. I'm a huge supporter of Goodyear and all that they have done over the years, but somebody needs to wake up right now and listen to these guys that are talking. We're talking about race drivers that have a huge amount of talent and very seldom complain about things like that.
That tire is not going to work … These guys cannot drive these cars to the point of putting on a good race for the fans, which is what our sport was built on.
How do you want to go out on Sunday?
It's the same as what I started off at the beginning of this year; that we want to be as competitive as we possibly can, and the object is to come out of Bristol with that race car in the top 35 in the points.
Would it be a perfect scenario to win the race? Yeah, that would be great, but that's asking a whole lot when I don't think any of the three cars this year in Michael Waltrip Racing have finished in Top 15.
Sam Hornish and Dario Franchitti haven't had to worry much about Bump Day before the Indianapolis 500, when the slowest qualified drivers can lose their spot to last-chance hopefuls.
Hornish, a three-time Indy Racing League champion, won his first and Team Penske's 14th Borg-Warner Trophy in 2006. Franchitti won the Indy 500 and the season title last year before following Hornish to NASCAR.
But Sunday could, in effect, be their version of stock car bump day. Each is outside the top 35 in points (Hornish 36th, 16 points behind J.J. Yeley; Franchitti, 38th, 103 back) and are not assured entry into races after Sunday. All this after Penske gave him Kurt Busch's owner points (because Busch could fall back on his 2004 past champion's provisional) and Franchitti assumed David Stremme's points after replacing him in the No. 40 Dodge.
Still, Penske president Tim Cindric said Hornish has "probably exceeded our expectations this year if you look at him relative to the other rookies.''
"He did a great job at Daytona," Cindric said. "He qualified 19th, ran a great race, kept his nose clean and if it weren't for sliding through the pits at the end of the race there, I think he might have had a chance for a top 10. You never know. Thought he was doing a good job at California, qualifying well, got collected in that mess (finishing last after a wreck) and at Vegas, qualified really well, we thought and again, on his in lap had a tire blow (finishing 41st).''
Surprise top 35 resident: Brian Vickers (ninth), in part reflecting Toyota's improvement, after missing 13 races and finishing 38th in points last season.
Surprise outcast: Dave Blaney (37th): He was among Toyota's most consistent drivers in its launch season, but he hasn't finished better than 26th.
According to Variety, Gary Ross and Universal Pictures will develop a drama written by Terence Winter (Sopranos executive producer) focusing on a hotshot driver who "develops a mentor/rival relationship with the driver he grew up idolizing. The dynamic is made more complex because the vet racer's son drives for his father's team.'' NASCAR has apparently agreed to cooperate, meaning footage can be shot within its venues. … Cale Yarborough, right, won the Bristol spring race 25 years ago without surrendering the lead. He led all 500 laps at the beastly half-mile (in two hours, 57 minutes, 43 seconds) after earning the pole in what was then a track record (107.608 mph). He beat Richard Petty by two laps. No other driver in the past 40 years has won the pole and led every lap of a race.