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My Brickyard Moment: Dale Jarrett, 1998

Note: This continues a series of letters from NASCAR drivers recounting their Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard wins and other big moments to happen at the Brickyard. Read other installments of "My Brickyard Moment" here.

Dale Jarrett is a two-time Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard winner, but without question, his most stirring run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway happened in 1998 when he finished 16th in the 43-car field after losing the lead due to a miscalculated fuel load. It was a moral victory of sorts, as Jarrett raced his way back to the lead lap. Jarrett, son of two-time NASCAR champion Ned Jarrett, won the Brickyard in 1996 and again in 1999, a victory that helped to propel him to the Cup Series championship. Jarrett retired from driving during the 2008 season. Here are his memories of that day, in his words:

In 1998, I probably had the fastest car I had ever driven at Indianapolis, but we ran out of gas and went four laps down. There was a little bit of miscalculation and a little bit of, I guess, greed would be the word, because they were paying $10,000 to the team leading at halfway, which really pales in comparison to what it pays to win the race, and obviously the notoriety and everything that comes along with that. 

We tried to stretch our gas tank too far. We were coming in for fuel on the next lap, but I ran out of gas just as I passed the entrance to pit road. So we lost four laps in the process of coasting around, getting to pit road and getting it refired.

Of course, at the time we still had the lap-down cars restarting on the inside lane, so I would restart with the leaders. We had just enough cautions, that with having the fastest car, all I had to do was be able to get to that front position and we could make the laps up.

We made up all four laps, but we just ran out of time. We needed another caution or two. We finished 16th, but it was a real shame to take a car like that and have that happen.

It was a challenge for me, too, to bring that car back to the lead pack, as mad as I was at the time. Because knowing you have a dominant car like that at a huge race like the Brickyard, there was probably a little emotion going in with that. 

But it was exciting, it was fun to pass all the cars, and got real exciting when we were only one lap down. That was, again, the most incredible car I’ve probably ever driven. It was just unfortunate that we weren’t able to take it to Victory Lane. But we took it home, and it sat on jack stands at the race shop for an entire year. 

We sat that car aside and actually built a brand-new car to come along with it to the test at Indy. The new car was good, but the car from 1998 was just exceptional.

We only ran it probably 30, maybe 40 laps in the Indy test. My crew chief Todd Parrott said: “OK, the rest of our test is going to be spent on this new car working out all the bugs. We’ll get it ready to take to Pocono or something.” We used our Indy test to test for Pocono. We knew what we had and what we were going to do. 

We tried to race that car after that at a couple other places, but it really didn’t work out as well as what it did at Indy every time. But in 1999, the car was back again, and we were able to do everything right throughout the day and go back to Victory Lane.

As I look back on that, we won in 1996 and had a great chance to win in 1997, but fuel mileage kind of played into that and we weren’t able to get back to the front. In 1998 we had our chance, but didn’t make it. We honestly had a real shot at winning four of those Indy races in a row. But when you can win two out of four in a four-year span, that’s pretty good. 

In 1999, we led 117 laps, and everything went as planned for us. We didn’t sit on the pole, but we got to the front and led a lot of laps. I think really the laps that we didn’t lead were mostly at times whenever people were doing different pit strategies and we got behind and then had to work our way to the front at that point in time. 

It was just one of those situations to where you make a plan and you stick to it, and it worked perfectly for us. We had our sequence of pit stops as to when to get to two and when to get four tires, and everything just worked perfect that day. 

The three seconds that we won by, well, it probably could have been a little more than that, but we got a comfortable lead and kind of just held on there at the end. 

Our Brickyard win was part of something very special that year. We were a new team at Robert Yates Racing. That was the first year of the No. 88 car at Yates Racing. We came right out of the box and won the Daytona 500, then we won the longest race at Charlotte, then we won at Indy.

There are a couple races that you look forward to each year -- the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard. When you can go to Victory Lane during a season in one of those, it certainly makes for a great year.

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