By KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 12, 2000
HOMESTEAD -- Dale Jarrett clinched his first Winston Cup championship a year ago with a fifth-place finish in the Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Bobby Labonte, who leads Dale Earnhardt by 218 points and Jeff Burton by 226, can do the same today if he comes out of the race with a 186-point lead.
What went through Jarrett's mind the night before his accomplishment?
"I don't think that you're really that nervous about it," he said. "I think you're more anxious about the situation. You can't say, "It's just another race.' Because, obviously, it's not just another race. You've got an opportunity to clinch the championship. You also know ... that you've got another week, too, but you kind of want to get it out of the way so you can enjoy that last week."
Jarrett, who starts seventh in the No. 88 Ford, is fourth in the standings with two victories. Four finishes of 31st or worse ended hope for a consecutive title.
WAY BACK: Earnhardt starts 37th today in the No. 3 Chevrolet and was 19th-fastest during the final practice.
"I want to win the race," he said. "I can't worry about the championship. I just need to win a race. The numbers will still work, but Bobby has got to have terrible luck (for) two races and we've got to have great luck."
MR. EXCITEMENT ON EXCITEMENT: The speedway's slightly banked turns -- 9.25 degrees -- can make passing difficult and action scarce.
There were six lead changes in Saturday's Miami 300 and 19 in last season's Pennzoil 400.
"Last year's race was boring," Jimmy Spencer said. "I watched it on TV afterward on the VCR, and you're right. I think that's why a lot of people tested (this month) for that reason. They didn't have the handle on this race track."
NEW TEAMMATE: Busch Grand National driver Todd Bodine will replace three-time Winston Cup champion Darrell Waltrip in the No. 66 Ford next season.
Bodine has four top-five finishes in 105 career Winston Cup starts with 10 car owners. His best full season came in 1994, when he finished 20th in the standings with the Stavola Brothers.
"I've been offered some Winston Cup rides the last couple of years, and I haven't taken them for the reason that I didn't feel they were opportunities where I could run in the top 20 or the top 15," Bodine said. "I knew this was an opportunity I had to look at."
PIT NOTES: After his third-place finish in the Miami 300, Busch series champion Jeff Green celebrated by turning a few doughnuts near the start-finish line. Apparently he did a few too many; he flattened both rear tires. ... Andy Houston, rookie driver of the No. 96 Ford, turned in the fastest lap (154.061 mph) during second-round qualifying for the Pennzoil 400. He will start 29th. ... Kyle Petty, Hut Stricklin, Ricky Craven, Dave Marcis, Steve Grissom, Norm Benning, Hermie Sadler and Ted Musgrave failed to make the Pennzoil 400 field. ... Defending winner Tony Stewart recorded the top speed (151.413 mph) during final practice, followed by pole winner Steve Park (150.514). Stewart will start 13th.