Friday, September 27, 2002
Jarrett hardly remembers Kansas
By Jerry Bonkowski ESPN.com
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- There are some races drivers would like to forget, usually because of the way they finished.
If they could, they'd love to erase the misfortune from their memory bank, rather than have it hang around the recesses of their mind, forever ready to be drudged up at a moment's notice.
Dale Jarrett's memory of his first trip to Kansas Speedway is hazy.
And then there's a guy like Dale Jarrett. Try as hard as he may, the driver of the No. 88 Ford has no recollection of last September's inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway. An extremely hard hit in Turn 1 of that race, along with a resulting concussion, completely wiped out his memory of that weekend.
While Jarrett knows this weekend's return to Kansas will be his second start at the 1½-mile oval, it will be like he's visiting for the first time thanks to last year's mishap.
"I don't remember anything," Jarrett said. "It's kind of strange. It was the first time I had a concussion of this magnitude. I don't remember arriving in Kansas City. The only part I do remember is that entrance into turn one and getting tapped, and from that point, I don't remember anything from before the race started, and I don't remember anything after that until I was getting on an airplane to come back to North Carolina.
"It's like everything was wiped from my memory. It'll be like my first time at Kansas City. I don't remember the garage area, I know the shape of the racetrack and knowing it's a lot like Chicago, but from actually being on the track, I don't remember any of it."
On one hand, not having any memory of last year's race is bad because Jarrett has no mental notes to work with in preparing for Sunday's race. On the other hand, with fresh mindset, Jarrett enters the event with no preconceived notions.
That's why Sunday's race has Jarrett both wary and optimistic, particularly when it comes to his hopes of making up ground in the standings. With eight races left and currently in 11th-place, 310 points behind leader Mark Martin, Jarrett concedes his chances of winning the title are pretty much over.
But the 1999 champion still has pride to race for, namely trying to extend his streak of top-five finishes to eight consecutive seasons since he joined Robert Yates Racing in 1995. If he can't win it all, he'll begrudgingly settle for fifth by season's end. At least it's better than 11th, that's for sure.
That goal is not out of the realm of possibility. While Jarrett trails Martin by 310 points, he's just 120 points behind current fifth-place holder and defending champ Jeff Gordon. It's a goal well within reach. That's why Jarrett and crew chief Todd Parrott are bringing the same car to Kansas that carried Jarrett to wins this year at Pocono and at Michigan.
"What we think about right now is making our program better," Jarrett said. "We're not giving up on 2002.
"We have a lot of pride in what we do, and this race team has never finished out of the top-five in the final points standings. So, that's our goal right now, to get ourselves in that position somehow, some way. And the way we do that is by trying to win races week in and week out, taking our very best car, and then trying to make sure we have the team thinking in the right direction to get ourselves ready for next year."
With eight races remaining and the season winding down to what appears will be one of the closest finishes in history, Jarrett can't help but lament what might have been if some of the mishaps had missed him. Instead of worrying about making it to fifth, he'd rather think about how he was part of the tight title race that's currently going on.
"The first thing that comes to my mind is that it's a year that I say, 'What if we would have made it through?'" Jarrett said. "I got tapped on the very last lap of the very first race of the year and went from possibly finishing fourth to finishing 14th or 15th. If I don't move quite too far to block Jeff Burton to try to help give me the push at Daytona in the second race. If you look at 310 points out, I could easily come up with that, but we all could. Everybody's been in that position."
Part of Jarrett's failures can be attributed to pushing too much at times. It's like a gambler who keeps getting deeper into a hole, thinking if he takes a few more chances, he will eventually get hot and start winning.
Jarrett can identify with that scenario: He readily admits he pushed too much at times, and that's one of the reason's he's in 11th, rather than first or even fifth.
"It's been a year of inconsistency for us, that's basically been about it," he said. "We haven't performed at the level we needed to week in and week out. Everything has contributed to that and unfortunately it's put us in this position to try and make up a lot to try and get back into that top-five that we've been accustomed to."
Jerry Bonkowski covers NASCAR for ESPN.com.