NASCAR: Jarrett’s emotional farewell
By Mike Cranston
CONCORD ó Dale Jarrett insists he’s not second-guessing his decision to retire. It won’t make his last race on Saturday night any easier.
“It’s difficult knowing that when I get out of the car that’s the last time I’ll ever compete at this level,” Jarrett said Friday.
The All-Star race will mark the end of a 24-year career for Jarrett at NASCAR’s highest level. The 51-year-old has run 668 points races, winning 32 times, including three Daytona 500s. Jarrett won the 1999 Cup championship.
“I was mad on Sunday night because I had to wait four more days to get back in the race car,” Jarrett recalled. “That’s how good it was.”
He’s working as an analyst for ESPN. An avid golfer, he’ll hit the links even more, and he’ll have more time to spend with his four kids.
But Jarrett will sure miss the competition.
“I can go to the golf course and have great matches, but nothing will ever match the kind of excitement that you get from driving a race car and being able to compete at this level,” Jarrett said.
Still, Jarrett insists he won’t come back. Other drivers, such as Bill Elliott, Mark Martin and Terry Labonte, have agreed to run partial schedules. Jarrett acknowledged he’s already fielded calls from other teams interested in hiring him for the start of next season.
“I hate to use the word never, but I have no plans whatsoever of getting back in the car,” Jarrett said. “I can’t even come up with a scenario.”
Jarrett followed his father’s path by going into TV. Ned Jarrett, a two-time Cup champion, was a longtime analyst.
This week is Jarrett’s farewell tour. He was inducted into the court of legends with his father at Lowe’s Motor Speedway earlier this week. Jarrett was praised by numerous drivers Friday for his role in helping the sport reach unprecedented popularity.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for people like the Jarretts, especially Dale,” Jimmie Johnson said. “Both as a driver and a representative of our sport, he is a very special man and a great guy. I respect him for all that he has done.
“I’m excited for him, but also disappointed that I’m going to be a part of his last event. That’s going to be a tough night for him I’m sure.”
Jarrett will be honored before the race and he’ll run in a car with a special paint scheme commemorating his career. And while Jarrett will be emotional, he’s convinced finishing at Lowe’s Speedway, an hour from his hometown of Hickory, is the best place to end his driving career.
“There’s one word that comes to mind: fortunate,” Jarrett said. “I was able to be part of a great sport at a time when it probably was gaining its biggest growth. I was just lucky to be a part of it.”