A late pit stop helps him overcome Steve Park and the Chevrolets, which won the season's first 4 NASCAR events.
Nobody could pass Steve Park's Chevrolet on the track to take away the lead Sunday at Darlington Raceway, so Dale Jarrett beat him on pit road.
Actually, Jarrett's Ford beat Park's car off pit road on their final stops in the pivotal moment of the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.
Jarrett held on to score his first victory _ and Ford's first win after four straight for Chevy _ of the Winston Cup season.
"I knew what I couldn't make up on the racetrack, the crew was going to make up in the pits," said Jarrett, who overcame an early mistake by his crew for his 25th victory and third at the 1.366-mile track.
On the first yellow flag, Jarrett's crew got only two of five lug nuts on the left front tire tight before Jarrett sped away to beat Jeff Gordon back onto the track.
"Before the race, I told the guys that this was going to be a day when pit stops would be important," crew chief Todd Parrott said. "I guess the guys got a little too antsy on the first pit stop."
Knowing there was a long way to go in the 293-lap race, Parrott ordered Jarrett back to pit road to have the rest of the lug nuts tightened.
That dropped Jarrett back and left Park and Jeff Gordon to battle for command most of the race.
Park got the better of it, leading 164 laps and giving it up only when he came to pit road. Gordon led 72 laps in his Chevrolet, but his bid for a second victory in three weeks ended when his car began to overheat.
That forced him to give up second to come in on Lap 184 (he fell out after 228 laps).
Park was leading at the time but gave it up to make a green-flag pit stop on Lap 199. Johnny Benson had been first among the leaders to pit on that round of stops and led until a yellow on Lap 225.
But a mistake by his crew, another loose lug nut, dropped him to eighth on the restart.
Park came out first after that stop with Jimmy Spencer and Marlin between him and Jarrett, who had worked his way back through the pack.
"Every time we made a pit stop we made up five or six spots," Jarrett said. "Everybody talks about being patient here, and you have to be. It's a long race and I knew I had a good car and a good crew."
Jarrett passed Marlin and Spencer after the restart and was not losing ground to Park. But Park's Chevrolet had been so strong that Parrott knew a late caution would provide his team its best chance.
That chance and that caution came on Lap 278 for debris in Turn 4, probably a piece that came off Benson's Pontiac when it slapped the wall a lap earlier.
That gave Jarrett's crew the chance to complete its atonement for the early mistake. Parrott timed the four-tire stop at 14.2 seconds. Gordon's car, the only one pitting in front of Jarrett in the Turn 1 end of pit road, was out of the race so Jarrett had a straight shot out and had the lead with 12 laps to go.
A crash in Turn 3 on the next lap, which resulted in Mike Skinner having to climb from his Chevrolet as flames burned beneath it, brought out a brief red flag and reduced the final race to the flag to seven laps.
It didn't matter. Park's car had been dominant on long runs, but Jarrett's was better in the clean air at the front of the pack, and nobody could catch him.
Gordon finished 40th and fell from first to fourth in the Winston Cup standings.
Jarrett took over the points lead, 65 ahead of Sterling Marlin and Benson.