Winston Cup points leader wins his second Brickyard 400 by making sure he doesn't repeat his fueling faux pas of '98.
Memories weighed heavily on Dale Jarrett's mind.
The current Winston Cup points leader could have won the Brickyard 400 a year ago, but a fuel miscalculation drained him dry and cost him dearly.
This time, he and his Robert Yates Racing team went to great lengths guarding against a similar scenario. Fuel lights were tested time and again, numbers crunched until nothing was left to count.
"Last year, we had a fuel light too, but it came on as soon as I ran out, so that wasn't doing me a whole hell of a lot of good," said Jarrett, who tried stretching his fuel in order to win a $10,000 bonus for leading the 1998 race at its halfway point.
He claimed the small cash prize, but ran out of gas just after doing so and wound up losing out on a potential payday of about $1.6-million.
Not in '99, Jarrett vowed.
"We actually worked hard here on the test session with the pick-up and the light to know that when it came on, I still had about two laps' worth of fuel," he said. "That's something we worked extremely hard on, to make sure that we were in good shape."
The precautions paid, too, as Jarrett won Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the second time in the race's six-year history, finishing comfortably ahead of Bobby Labonte for his fourth victory of the season and 22nd of his career.
"He was this dominant last year at this race, and he ran out of gas," said defending race champion and pole-sitter Jeff Gordon, who edged Mark Martin for third. "I think they made sure they didn't run out of gas (Saturday), and they killed everybody."
They're reaping the rewards, too.
To the till, add $712,240. To the title chase with which Jarrett is rapidly beginning to run away, add 185 points (he now has 3,199, leading Martin by 274). And to Jarrett's frazzled nerves, add a much-welcomed sense of relief.
"That was hard work," the No. 88 Ford driver said. "I mean, the car was really good, but when you get out like that and you're leading a lot (117 laps, including the final 42), . . . (and) especially after last year, you wonder what may happen and what scenario is going to play out."
Jarrett, bear in mind, didn't win without tempting fate. His tank was filled for what might have been the final time on Lap 116, and he crossed his fingers hoping that would indeed be enough to make it through 160 laps should this year's relatively incident-free Brickyard 400 stay green until the end.
But he couldn't be certain it would be enough.
"I asked (crew chief Todd Parrott) about it," Jarrett said, "and he said if we were easy with the gas pedal, we would make it."
Others weren't so sure.
"I don't know if Dale could have made it or not," said Labonte, who was slowed by a motor miss that developed with about 40 laps to go. "We were hoping he couldn't."
"Yes," car owner Yates predicted as the race was run. "Well, maybe. If we're lucky."
In the end, luck played no part.
It was a timely yellow that tickled Jarrett pink: Smoke poured from the No. 71 Chevrolet of veteran Dave Marcis, prompting the day's third and last caution.
That allowed most front-runners to duck into the pits on Lap 143, and Jarrett won the race back out. He topped his tank and took two right-side tires, escaping in 8.78 seconds.
"The caution came out, and I said, "Here we go again. What do we do?' " said Jarrett, who placed 16th here last year and also was bitten by the out-of-fuel bug at the Las Vegas 400 early this season. "We discussed staying out, getting four tires, and then I said two, and Todd agreed with that. The worst feeling in the world was going to be to look up as I came down pit road and see all those guys stay on the race track."
Everyone who counted, however, came in.
Labonte took two tires and fuel, too, but it took his crew 10.37 seconds. Even though Jarrett won by 3.351 seconds, that time Labonte lost in the pits proved costly. Especially when things are going as well as they are for No. 88.
"Everything just seems to be clicking and going good," Parrott said. "The biggest thing is the team. This isn't about (Jarrett) or me or Robert (Yates). It's about all of us."
It was about fuel, too.
"Coming into this race," Parrott said, "the last thing we wanted to do was have a fuel problem.
"I think that was one of the keys to winning the race here today: Going into this race, there were no doubts in anything we were doing, or anything that was going to happen other than the way the race fell."
Dale Jarrett celebrates in the winner's circle after winning his second Brickyard 400 on Saturday. Jarrett also won the race in 1996. Jarrett, the Winston Cup points leader with 3,199, earned $712,240 for the victory. "That was hard work," Jarrett said. "The car was really good, but when you get out like that and you're leading a lot, . . . (and) especially after last year, you wonder what may happen and what scenario is going to play out."
TIME OF RACE: 2 hours, 41 minutes, 54.791 seconds.
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 3.351 seconds.
WINNER'S AVG. SPEED: 148.228 mph.
CAUTION FLAGS: 3 for 12 laps.
LEAD CHANGES: 13 among six drivers.
LAP LEADERS: Gordon 1-5, Martin 6-7, Gordon 8-26, Jarrett 27, Martin 28-39, Jarrett 40-63, Martin 64-65, Jarrett 66-74, Marcis 75, Jarrett 76-77, B. Labonte 78, Jarrett 79-116, J. Burton 117, Jarrett 118-160.
UP NEXT: Frontier at the Glen, 12:30 p.m. Aug. 15, Watkins Glen, N.Y. TV: ESPN.