JARRETT pushes past teammate for victory

Monday, July 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOUDON, N.H. (AP) _ It's tough being a team player when a victory is on the line.

Just ask Dale Jarrett. Or Ricky Rudd, the teammate Jarrett shoved aside Sunday for his victory in the New England 300.

Bumping his Robert Yates Racing teammate ever so slightly toward the wall with three laps left, Jarrett took the lead, then held off Jeff Gordon for his fourth victory of the year, and his first since April.

It was a fitting way to start the second half of the season, as the top three drivers in the ultra-tight Winston Cup points race fought it out in front all day.

When it was over, Jarrett and Gordon finished the way they started, in an unlikely dead heat. Their 2,695 points were 28 more than Rudd, who was poised to win, but got burned by a late yellow flag, then beaten by his teammate, and finished third.

Sure, it could have been Rudd in Victory Lane. But as they say in this sport, ``That's Racin'.''

``They're racers like we are,'' said Jarrett's crew chief, Todd Parrott. ``They want to win just like we do. That's the fire Robert Yates puts in his race teams. It's something to be very proud of, to have two teams who race that hard, fight that hard and want to win.''

The race was decided a few laps after Jimmy Spencer tapped Jerry Nadeau into the wall between Turns 3 and 4 to bring out the day's 10th and final yellow flag.

After the restart, it took one lap around the flat, 1.058-mile track for Jarrett to catch Rudd, slip inside, give a little nudge, and pass for the lead.

Did Jarrett feel any different on the restart, knowing he had a teammate in front of him?

``If I want to keep my job, it better,'' he said. ``I wanted to race him hard. If I got a run, that's what I wanted to do. But I wasn't going to knock him out of the way.''

Spencer finished fourth and Tony Stewart fifth. Coming off a victory Saturday night in a Busch Series race near St. Louis, Kevin Harvick finished eighth, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Kyle Petty, returning to the track for the first time since his son's death here last May, was never a factor, and finished 26th.

Yates might have been the biggest winner. He hired Rudd in 2000, and now has two cars with good chances to win the points title.

``It's pretty tough to cheer when both guys are racing,'' Yates said. ``I just want them both to be careful, and whoever's the fastest ...''

Jarrett celebrated by taking his Ford on a backward lap around the track. He dedicated the victory to his former teammate, Kenny Irwin, and Adam Petty, the two drivers who died last year at New Hampshire International Speedway.

``This goes to two special young men who made their mark on this sport, but would have made it better if they could have stayed around longer,'' Jarrett said. ``We remember the good things they did, and how they touched our hearts.''

In response to the deaths, NASCAR mandated restrictor plates for the race here last September, and Jeff Burton led all 300 laps in what was largely considered one of the dullest NASCAR races in ages.

The restrictor plates were off this time, but a thin, new layer of asphalt made the track very tricky as drivers struggled to find an outside passing lane. What resulted was another less-than-thrilling race.

``I don't enjoy running single-file, follow-the-leader, then watching someone pass me on it at the end,'' Rudd said. ``On the other hand, everything was equal. It was the same environment for all 43 competitors''

Indeed, the only legitimate green-flag pass for the lead came at the end, when Jarrett pushed by Rudd.

Rudd said there were no hard feelings.

``I think he sees me as just another race car on the track with 10 laps to go, and the feeling is obliged,'' Rudd said.

Gordon passed Rudd just after Jarrett did to finish second. But to Gordon, this was a disappointment, especially because he led 126 of the first 127 laps.

``I'm not as happy about a second-place finish as I normally would be,'' he said. ``Last week, second would've been really good. This week, second was not something we found real gratifying.''

Gordon said there was no sense looking too far ahead in the points race. Still, Jarrett doesn't think it was a fluke that the top three points leaders were the best three drivers on this, a very difficult track.

``I think it shows you're going to have to be on top of your game each and every week here and you can't make any mistakes,'' Jarrett said.

Jarrett won with an average speed of 102.131 mph, and his margin of victory was 0.659 seconds. He earned $238,000 for the victory, but remained tied in points because of the five extra points Gordon received for leading the most laps. Jarrett is ranked first because he has more victories this season.