By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 9, 2002
Dale Jarrett is honest.
With things at their worst this season for the No. 88 Ford -- and they've been pretty awful -- the team never discussed the possibility of racing the big brown truck.
Not even once.
"No, that never comes up around here," Jarrett said of the popular UPS commercials urging Jarrett to race the sponsor's boxy delivery trucks. "But we've got our work cut out for us."
Jarrett, two seasons removed from the Winston Cup championship, is struggling mightily with a program he calls "totally fouled up." Remaining honest, he said four top-10 runs in the past six races are not evidence the problem is solved.
"We've got to accept that we're not the team we were a couple years ago and even early last year, so we've got to work through that," Jarrett said. "As we have a little bit of success, we can enjoy that, but we've got a long way to go."
Jarrett is 13th in the standings, 456 points behind leader Sterling Marlin. Four times in the first 13 races he failed to qualify based on speed, needing owner-points provisionals to make the field. Twice he has blown engines early in races. Only twice has he driven a car he thought could win, at Martinsville (fourth) and Dover (fifth).
This time last year, Jarrett had three wins and led the points.
"We realize we've gotten ourselves behind," he said. "This is not going to be a quick-fix situation. We have our work cut out for us, but we all are committed to making this work again and getting us back to Victory Lane. And we intend to do it with the people we have here working together."
Somehow, the team got stale.
Robert Yates Racing is building its own chassis this season, which Jarrett said has caused problems because no two are alike. Also, the team has relied on old formulas that no longer work with ever-changing tire compounds, track surfaces and aerodynamic rules. Test sessions are poorly utilized, he said, just trying the same old combinations.
"We have to get out to the racetracks a little bit more and put that time we spend testing to good use," he said.
Looking for fresh ideas, Yates hired young crew chief Jimmy Elledge to replace veteran Todd Parrott, who was promoted to team manager in the offseason. But the mix did not work because Parrott remained too involved in every decision. Elledge left after six races, and Parrott returned to his old job.
But Parrott cannot fix these problems alone.
"A lot of times I do want to go put myself in a room and just say, 'Leave me alone and let me figure this out,"' he said. "But as big as this sport's gotten, it's hard for one person to figure it out on his own anymore.
"It takes the engine man, the crew chief, the driver, everybody in the shop, the guys building the chassis, the guys hanging the bodies on the car. You just have to be so much on your game right now to be at the top."
As the team continued to struggle, rumors that Jarrett was leaving Robert Yates Racing to drive for Andy Petree also hurt. Jarrett addressed the team two weeks ago to say he is not leaving. His contract with RYR runs through 2004, and the 45-year-old hopes to sign an extension through 2006.
He wants to fix the No. 88.
"I've become somewhat of a cheerleader," he said. "There's not a driver or team out there, no matter how good they've been, that hasn't gone through this. I know this is a good race team and we'll be back from this, also."