At the Pepsi 400, Dale Jarrett kept rolling toward the Winston
Only halfway through the season, Dale Jarrett is looking more
and more like a lock to take the Winston Cup. By winning last
Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway,
Jarrett increased his Cup lead over Bobby Labonte, who finished
fifth, to 177 points. Jarrett's Ford Taurus is running so strong
that it would take a series of flukes for him to lose the
The Pepsi win was Jarrett's third of the season, in which he has
15 top 10 finishes in 17 races. "Those are Jeff Gordon-Ray
Evernham-type numbers," says Jarrett, referring to the driver
and crew chief tandem that has won three of the last four
"We've got a lot of confidence," Jarrett says of himself and his
Todd Parrott-led crew. They showed it under fire on Saturday
when Parrott ordered only a four-second splash of fuel and no
tire change on Jarrett's final pit stop, with 17 laps remaining
on the 2 1/2-mile track. As a result Jarrett went back out with
the lead, and he had just enough gas to finish. After taking the
checkered flag, he ran out of fuel on the backstretch.
Because of a crash, the final three laps were run under caution,
so Dale Earnhardt motored helplessly behind the pace car and
Jarrett. Earnhardt believes he could have muscled his Chevrolet
Monte Carlo into the lead had the race finished under green, but
Jarrett disagreed, noting that in the laps before the final
caution, "I could see behind me that Earnhardt wasn't getting
much of a push [aerodynamically] from anybody. I was able to
keep him where I needed to keep him."
In each of the past six seasons, the Winston Cup points leader
at the halfway point has gone on to win the title. The throngs
of Gordon boo-birds who are sick of seeing him dominate the
series can rest assured that a new champion will be crowned in
'99. None of the current top four in the standings--Jarrett,
Labonte, Mark Martin and Jeff Burton--have won the Winston Cup.
Gordon is fifth, a whopping 394 points behind Jarrett, and a
driver hasn't come from that far back at the halfway point to
win the title since Richard Petty in 1972.
IRL LOOKING AT FENDERS
If the track magnate who hosts five of the Indy Racing League's
11 events gets his way, Indy cars could be sporting fenders as
early as next year. If fenders aren't added, Speedway
Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith won't rule out
discontinuing IRL races on his tracks near Atlanta, Charlotte,
Fort Worth (two events) and Las Vegas.
"I don't want to go there--yet," Smith said last week when asked
if he would continue to stage IRL races with open-wheel cars.
Smith says his primary concern is safety. It was at his Lowe's
Motor Speedway, near Charlotte, that three spectators were
killed and eight others injured by a flying tire and other
debris during an IRL race on May 1. At all six of Smith's
tracks, NASCAR racing is the main source of revenue. Smith has
seen how stock cars' fenders help contain wheels and tires that
break off in crashes.
However, racing-safety experts speaking on the condition of
anonymity told SI that putting fenders on Indy cars could create
an even greater danger: airborne cars. The designs developed in
a project headed by Smith's right-hand man, Lowe's Motor
Speedway president H.A. Wheeler, are similar to those of Le
Mans-prototype sports cars. On June 12 at Le Mans, a
Mercedes-Benz sports car kited about 60 feet into the air and
flipped five times. Last October at Road Atlanta, a Porsche
prototype did a high-flying backflip. The experts said that
whenever aerodynamic downforce becomes greater on the rear of
such a car than on the front, kiting is possible. Both accidents
occurred on road courses, neither near a grandstand. Because IRL
races are run on oval tracks, with grandstands in close
proximity, kiting could be disastrous.
Both the IRL and rival CART have implemented tethering systems
to keep broken-off wheels attached to cars. But Smith says he is
still worried that the Charlotte crash and a similar accident at
a CART race 10 months earlier at Michigan Speedway, in which
three spectators were killed and six more were injured, have put
open-wheel racing "in danger. And I think that endangers all
motor racing." He has sent copies of an Indy car design with
fenders to IRL founder Tony George and to the organization's
executive director, Leo Mehl.
At a time when the IRL is trying to reduce speeds by lowering
maximum engine rpm, Mehl, formerly Goodyear's top racing-tire
engineer, says he is concerned that fenders "would make a car go
faster." Exposed tires "create a lot of drag," he explains.
"When you cover them up, you don't know how many miles per hour
you're going to pick up, but you'd pick up a lot."
Fenders would also allow IRL cars to race closer together. Two
open-wheel cars that make contact run the risk that one spinning
tire will "climb" another, causing the cars to flip. Relatively
safe fender-banging is one reason that NASCAR has become vastly
more popular than Indy car racing. But driver Tony Stewart, the
1997 IRL champion, who has switched to NASCAR, fears that
fenders would give some IRL drivers a false sense of security.
"If you put fenders on IRL cars, they're going to become
absolute weapons," says Stewart. "There are guys who don't use
their heads and don't use their mirrors. Fenders would give them
a license to be more dangerous than they already are."
Joyner-Kersee Jumps In
GOLD MEDALIST CHANGES TRACK
Jackie Joyner-Kersee never had much difficulty attracting
sponsors during her career in track and field. Last week,
however, the three-time Olympic gold medalist took on the
money-raising challenge of her life. During the next several
months Joyner-Kersee needs to secure about $30 million in
commitments to fund the NASCAR Winston Cup team she is forming
with her husband and former coach, Bob Kersee. Although
African-American-owned teams have been getting open-door
treatment from NASCAR as it seeks to diversify, corporate
America hasn't responded with the funding necessary to break
into the elite Winston Cup series.
Former NBA star Brad Daugherty has been operating a NASCAR
Craftsman Truck series team since 1995, and NBA Hall of Famer
Julius Erving and former NFL running back Joe Washington have
teamed up to field Busch cars since '97. They have adequate
sponsorship for the lesser series in which they compete, but no
black owner in recent times has secured Winston Cup-class
funding. Joyner-Kersee Racing plans to go straight into Winston
Cup next season, forming the first black-owned team in NASCAR's
top series since the late Wendell Scott retired in 1973.
To be competitive, Cup teams require about $10 million a
year--$8 million from a primary sponsor and another $2 million
from secondary ones--in three-year contracts. "Whatever entities
I have to bring together to get the job done, I'm willing to do
that," Joyner-Kersee says.
Kersee, who will manage the team, has talked with the marketing
staffs of the other black-owned teams and says he doesn't
believe racism has been an obstacle to sponsorship. No black
driver has competed regularly in Winston Cup since Scott drove
his own cars. The Daugherty and Washington-Erving teams employ
white drivers because there is a dearth of black prospects.
Kersee says he's looking for the best available driver, period.
"We're not a black team," says the 45-year-old Kersee, who has
been an ardent NASCAR fan since childhood. "We're going to be a
NASCAR team, and we're going to get the best people possible."
Miles that 58-year-old Dave Marcis has driven in the Pepsi 400
at Daytona, a record for the event. He completed 397 1/2 miles
in last Saturday night's race to surpass Richard Petty's old
mark of 10,337 1/2 miles.