Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett, 2nd and 3rd in the standings, share information, and even cars.
By JOANNE KORTH
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 5, 2001
INDIANAPOLIS -- Sharing is one thing, but Dale Jarrett is pretty sure the good people at Robert Yates Racing have taken this all-for-one team spirit thing a tad far.
He misses his car.
"I don't know how this happened," Jarrett said.
When the green flag falls today on one of NASCAR's most prestigious events, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the car Jarrett rode to victory in 1999 will be on the fabled 2.5-mile oval -- with Ricky Rudd's hands on the steering wheel.
"That's a good teammate," Rudd said.
Locked in the Winston Cup championship race with leader Jeff Gordon, Robert Yates Racing teammates Jarrett and Rudd are committed to helping each other all the way to the season finale.
"Our best effort to try to win the championship for Robert Yates Racing is the two of us against him," Jarrett said of Gordon, who leads second-place Rudd by 45 points and third-place Jarrett by 107. "As a matter of fact, I think as this has gotten closer we've shared more information."
And a few tense moments.
Two of Jarrett's four victories -- Martinsville and New Hampshire -- came at Rudd's expense, with Jarrett passing Rudd for the lead in the closing laps. At New Hampshire, contact was made between Jarrett's No. 88 Ford and Rudd's No. 28.
"Everything that I've seen said that I bumped him and, I'm telling you, I did not hit his race car until we were side by side and he moved over to block me," Jarrett said. "Ricky and I are fine with everything. It looks like everybody else is trying to stir something up, but we've talked and the teams are fine."
Count Gordon among those who have tried to cause trouble.
At a gathering of past Brickyard 400 winners on Friday, Gordon suggested that surrendering his Indianapolis car was the price Jarrett had to pay for hitting Rudd at New Hampshire.
"Okay, here we go," Jarrett said.
"Yeah, Jeff is right," Rudd said, smiling. "It was midnight after New Hampshire that we went and picked it up."
"You can just consider me a member of the media," Gordon said.
Truthfully, Rudd acquired Jarrett's car in a swap -- Jarrett's team needed a road-course car, Rudd's an intermediate-track car. Jarrett, who wrecked the car in September during a test at Dover, likely did not imagine Rudd would race it at Indianapolis.
"Of course, we put a new body on it and made a lot of changes," Rudd said. "But we've got a good race car. I think this goes to show how these teams do share."
Multicar teams have produced the past six Winston Cup champions: Hendrick Motorsports from 1995-98 with Gordon and Terry Labonte, Yates in 1999 with Jarrett, and Joe Gibbs Racing last season with Bobby Labonte. In 1996, Gordon and Terry Labonte battled each other to the final race.
"I do remember that toward the end of the season information was shared less and less," Gordon said. "If you can keep that flow of information going, it's awesome. But there does come a time when you say, "Okay, I'm racing my teammate for the championship.' With us, there wasn't a third guy."
Before the 1999 season, when Kenny Irwin Jr. was driving the No. 28, Yates decided having both teams housed in the same race shop was counterproductive. The struggles of the No. 28 often interfered with the focus of Jarrett's team members.
"The teams had different agendas," Yates said. "Guys from one team would pitch in to help the other, but then they ask why they always had to be helping the other guy. I said, "I'm tired of refereeing this deal. Let me just put you in two different places.' "
When Yates hired Rudd for 2000, he bought the former driver-owner's shop in Mooresville, N.C., and moved the No. 28 team there. Jarrett's team remains in Yates' original Charlotte facility.
Rudd has seen the No. 28 team make great strides.
"This is probably the first time in my career that I've ever had the chance to go to each and every racetrack with a car that's very capable of winning the race," Rudd said, who snapped an 88-race winless streak at Pocono in June.
"We didn't start off that way when I came on board to the Yates operation. . . . It's been a major rebuilding process."
Now, the focus for both teams is on winning races and championships.
"We know that we have to continue to work together and no matter what's written or said, we're going to be okay with each other and that's what we have to do. Robert doesn't give us orders other than to go out and try to finish first and second every week."
Call it coincidence, but the winner of the Brickyard 400 has won the past three championships. Today, Rudd will start fourth, Jarrett sixth, right behind his teammate on the track. From there, Jarrett can keep a close eye on his former car.
"Again, I'm not too sure how it got over there," Jarrett said. "We might have taken one step too far, here."
2:30 today. POLE: Jimmy Spencer. TV: Ch. 8.