Jarrett gets lucky and wins at Pocono

Monday, June 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) _ Dale Jarrett would have felt better about his prospects of winning the Pocono 500 had he been chasing anybody but Robert Yates Racing teammate Ricky Rudd.

``I've always said that if you're trying to win a race, the hardest thing to do is to chase down another Yates engine,'' Jarrett said Sunday.

Jarrett figured the best he could do was finish second to Rudd, the defending race champion. But he didn't count on Rudd again having bad luck.

He passed Rudd on the 195th of 200 laps at Pocono Raceway, then won under caution after Rudd hit the wall with one lap to go. Just like a week earlier at Dover International Speedway, Rudd had a late tire problem that made it easy for Jarrett.

``Maybe not the best car but the luckiest car won today,'' said Jarrett's crew chief, Todd Parrott. ``You just keep praying, keep hoping and keep working.''

Rudd, who finished 17th, was almost resigned to his fate.

``I guess the good thing is we're up front when we have trouble,'' he said.

Crew chief Michael ``Fatback'' McSwain was upset by the team's run of bad luck. A late tire problem also killed Rudd's chance for winning a week earlier in Dover, Del.

``Don't give me a gun to play with right now,'' McSwain said. ``And you sure don't want to take me to Las Vegas with you,''

Certain to be beaten by at least one driver who could have stretched his gas to the end, and being outrun by Rudd, Jarrett figured the Pocono 500 would be just another loss even though he was running well.

``That last yellow, that's when you know that prayer works,'' he said, referring to a caution flag waved for debris on the track on lap 168.

Jarrett ended a 30-race losing streak and won for the third time in his career at Pocono. Now, he heads for Michigan International Speedway, where Jarrett hopes nothing changes for him.

``We'll wipe the champagne of it and pretty much go like it is,'' Jarrett said. ``So it won't be much different. Hopefully, the result won't be, either.''

The victory was the first for 1999 Winston Cup champion Jarrett since last July in Loudon, N.H., and the 29th of his career. He also won on this 2 1/2-mile triangle in 1995 and 1997, both times in the Pennsylvania 500, Pocono's July race.

Mark Martin had enough gas in his Ford to go the end, but was victimized when the key caution flag flew. That permitted Jarrett, Rudd and the other contenders to gas up and have plenty of time to get back to the front.

Jarrett was delighted to cap a great weekend for his family. His son Jason finished second Saturday in the ARCA series race at Pocono.

Even though he realized luck was on his side, Jarrett said a strong run put him in position to win. That hasn't been the case in many of his recent races.

``If you put yourself in the top five, you've got a chance,'' he said. ``I might have been able to catch Ricky, but passing him might have been another.''

He conceded Rudd had the best car, and felt sorry the victory came at the expense of his teammate.

``That team has been going through this for three years,'' Jarrett said.

The 45-year-old driver from Hickory, N.C., has not been effective for most of this season. His best previous finish was fourth in April in Martinsville, Va.

Jarrett started 13th in a field set by points. Qualifying was canceled because water from recent rain seeped through the track.

Pole-sitter Sterling Marlin wound up fourth in a Dodge.

``It was terrible early,'' said Marlin, whose lead in the series standings remained 136 points over third-place finisher Jimmie Johnson. ``It was pretty decent at the end, but we were no match for the Fords and Chevrolets.''

Series champion Jeff Gordon, who overcame a spin on pit road with 47 laps remaining, finished fifth in a Chevy.

``I came on to pit road and couldn't get it slowed down,'' Gordon said after a late run from 25th position.

Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip, Rusty Wallace and Dave Blaney completed the top 10.

Stewart had the only Pontiac to run in the top 10, leaving crew chief Greg Zipadelli to bemoan the recent woeful performances. Pontiac, the oldest of the makes being raced, will be redesigned next year.

But that won't do Zipadelli any good now.

``We're going to Michigan, and it will be the same dang thing again,'' he said.