Sunday, October 7, 2007

Jarrett to announce partial retirement

DJ: Thanks for playing along
By Robbie Mays

Dale Jarrett is likely to announce this Thursday his plans for the 2008 season and beyond, and what he says is probably already figured out by most of the media and NASCAR fans themselves. The only question: exactly how much time will we see him behind the wheel of a stockcar in the coming years.

Jarrett will likely run a limited schedule next season for Michael Waltrip Racing. Look for him to run about six races (with the help of the past champion provisionals he is allotted every year) and look for those races to be at tracks where he has had success in the past.

If I were him, I would run the following races: the Daytona 500, both Talladega races, Darlington, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, the July 4th race at Daytona, and maybe even Indianapolis. The rest of the time, he should be in the ESPN broadcast booth for all the Busch races, and in the pre-race trailer for ESPN in the races he isn’t competing in, possibly even replacing Rusty Wallace in the booth of those Cup events.

It’s no secret that DJ has struggled this year. After using up all six of his past champion provisionals within the first nine weeks of the season, the UPS Toyota hasn’t had much success on qualifying day. Up to the fall Talladega race, Jarrett has made 20 of 30 races. When he has qualified, his best finish has been a disappointing 22nd in the season opening Daytona 500. Jarrett, the 1999 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Champion, was once feared by every driver on the track because of his ability to run in the top 5 each and every week. My how times have changed.

If you are unfamiliar with how DJ’s place in NASCAR was solidified, then look to when he won his first race at Michigan in 1991 in the Wood Brothers Ford, beating Davey Allison by just inches to the line. And if that solidification was in question, it was definitely in place when he went to victory lane in the 1993 Daytona 500 with Joe Gibbs Racing. He would move to Robert Yates Racing in late 1994.

Then in 1995, when Ernie Irvan returned to NASCAR racing after two years of recovery following a near fatal accident in 1994, Jarrett was almost out of a ride completely. That was until owner Robert Yates decided to start a second team in the Cup Series, and put Jarrett in it in 1996. The #88 Quality Care Ford became a powerhouse and stayed that way until 2003. Jarrett would become a favorite of my dad, and the rivalry that was the “Dale and Dale Show” was brought into my living room every Sunday.

Jarrett of course half of that, with my favorite Dale Earnhardt the other half. The two Dales would battle door to door for the next four years until the untimely death of Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Now in the twilight of his career, I think DJ realizes that he isn’t as competitive as he once was. Even in his final few years at Yates, he only picked up a single win in the 2005 fall Talladega race, and that only coming after a late charge when the leaders got caught up in a multi-car accident, commonly known as “the big one.”

Jarrett’s surge in the late 90’s was one I’ll never forget. From the 1996 Daytona 500 win, to hitting the wall in the Southern 500 and losing a shot at winning the Winston Million that year, he was a spectacle on the track and one that you could always count on when making picks in the office race pool.

The son of legendary driver Ned Jarrett will be one to enjoy covering races for that four-letter network that has failed to live up to their coverage this year that once was. Dale Jarrett is one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers and will be one to look at when comparing future drivers in years to come.

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