Jarrett, Martin Fail To Win Winston
HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) _ Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin fell short.
For the second year in a row, Jarrett came to Atlanta Motor Speedway with a chance to win his first NASCAR Winston Cup title. But, while Jarrett ran second in the NAPA 500, Jeff Gordon wrapped up the championship by a mere 14 points with a 17th-place finish.
``We did all that we could do, and that’s all you can ask,″ Jarrett said. ``They (Gordon’s team) did their job. They knew what they had to do, and we did what we could do. We were just a little bit short.″
Martin is one of the most consistent drivers on the circuit, finishing no lower than sixth in the season standings since 1989. But he has never won the championship, one of the few blemishes on his career.
Martin was leading the race Sunday with 11 laps to go, but a broken valve knocked him back to third behind Jarrett and race winner Bobby Labonte. Third was also where he finished in the Winston Cup standings, 29 points behind Gordon.
``We went for the win as hard as we could go,″ Martin said. ``We could have gotten close (to Gordon) today, but we couldn’t have pulled it off, even with the win. I’m proud of this team. They are my champs anyway.″
Jarrett came to final race in 1996 trailing Terry Labonte by 101 points and Gordon by 52. Jarrett finished second in that season-ending event, but Labonte wrapped up the title by running fifth.
Jarrett was a little closer to the lead coming to this year’s final race, trailing Gordon by 77 points while Martin was another 10 points behind. Gordon opened the door to his two challengers by wrecking on pit road Saturday and then qualifying 37th in his backup car.
On Sunday, Gordon worked his way through the field and then settled into a conservative mode, knowing he needed only an 18th-place finish even if Jarrett won and earned a bonus by leading the most laps.
``I had no idea what Gordon was doing or where he was,″ Jarrett said. ``They never told me and I never asked. I knew our job and I knew if we did our job, we’d just have to see where we were.″
Jarrett won seven races to work his way into championship contention for the second year in a row. He had nothing to be ashamed of after the closest Winston Cup race since 1992.
``We did all we could possibly do,″ he said. ``I can’t look back and say we did anything wrong at any point. Our guys did a terrific job all year.″
Martin seemed more disappointed that he couldn’t close out the season by winning his fifth race.
``Bobby had the best car, but we had him where we wanted him with 20 laps to go,″ Martin said. ``I wanted a good solid run at the end of the season. It was, but it would have been cooler to boast all winter that we won the last race.″
Instead, Martin and Jarrett will have to settle for kind words from the champion’s camp.
``Those are two of the classiest guys on the circuit,″ said Ray Evernham, Gordon’s crew chief. ``Maybe someday they’ll win a championship. I hope they do.″