Dale Jarrett Wins UAW-GM Quality 500
5 October 1997CONCORD, NC -- It looked like the UAW-GM Quality 500 would be a yawner when Bobby Labonte just motored away from the field. But when trouble struck the leader and nine others in a lap 104 incident the racing began in earnest. It was Dale Jarrett and his Quality Care Ford team that found a combination that got them to the checkers some 4.142 seconds ahead of the field to get Jarrett his 6th win of the 1997 season.
The race started with Geoff Bodine taking the field to green. Bodine was no match though for Bobby Labonte and by lap five the Interstate Pontiac was on the point. Once by, Labonte took off and looked to be in an entirely different class of car compared to second place runner Mark Martin. Labonte had built up a double digit lead by the time the first cycle of green flag stops started on lap 63.
The cycle of pit stops was eventful when a number of incidents broke loose. First Bobby Hamilton missed his pit stall and looped his car trying to get back to his stall. The move that Hamilton made was deemed to be an infraction by NASCAR and a 15 second penalty was issued.
Also, during this period of green flag stops, NASCAR caught Jeff Gordon speeding on pit road. This resulted in the 24 being called to pit road for a stop and go penalty.
Bobby Labonte continued to dominate the field and built up his lead. It truly looked like a rout was going to happen. All that Labonte had to do was keep his fenders clean and he looked to be a shoe-in.
That all changed on lap 103 when the #96 Caterpillar car lost an axle and oiled down the track. The first car into the mess was Kevin Lepage in the #91. When Lepage hit the oil he slid up the track into Geoff Bodine and drove Bodine into the turn 2 wall. The field started checking up but Rudd, who's tires were soaked from the spilled oil, slammed hard into Hut Stricklin's Ford. Bobby Labonte came motoring into the smoke-filled turn and locked down the brakes. The move would send the 18 car on a slow lazy slide through the exit of turn two. Labonte was fortunate that he kept it out of substantial trouble.
Bobby Labonte made quite a few stops under the caution. Crew chief Jimmy Makar and crew could make his car as good as new. When the green flew Bobby would line up on the tail end of the lead lap in position 18.
"It (the spin) didn't hurt us at all really. It just cost us track position," said Labonte. "It doesn't take much to be a little bit off, and it makes a lot of difference on the race car."
With Labonte buried in the pack the rest of the field could get down to some racing.
The first major skirmish for the lead came when Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt went at it door-to-door for about 10 laps. Earnhardt came out on top but Jarrett came right back. The two would switch the lead 2 times before Earnhardt got the lead solidly. Bobby Labonte had worked his way back through the field and was running third at the time.
It was during the last pit stop that Dale Jarrett's car got the adjustment it needed to make it the top-dog. "We made an air pressure adjustment on that last stop, just a pound up in two of our tires," said Jarrett.
That was all it would take as Jarrett's car was on a long run setup. And on lap 277 the Quality Care Ford blasted to the lead.
Jarrett then started to drive away from the field and built a 4.142-second lead over second place finisher Bobby Labonte when the checkers fell. The drivers that rounded out the top-five were Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.
Jarrett said after accepting the $130,000 winners check, "We had to work on it some. The guys did a great job in the pits and we just had to wait for the race track to come to us. We were a little on the tight side but we were still pulling away. I wasn't really comfortable until about five laps to go, because his (Labonte's) car was so good. I figured he was going to run me down."
Bobby Labonte said of his run, "We had a really good race car but it just wasn't meant to be I guess. We were very fortunate we didn't get in that wreck earlier. We played the right game - we just didn't win."
The race maintained an average speed of 144.323 miles per hour and took 3 hours 28 minutes 17 seconds to complete. There were 20 lead changes among 9 drivers. The action was slowed by the caution flag 4 times for 33 laps.
Both Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett cut their points deficit to series leader Jeff Gordon. But Gordon rolls out of Charlotte with a 125-marker lead over second place Mark Martin and 197-point cushion on Dale Jarrett.
The next race will be the DieHard 500 to be run October 12th at the 2.66 mile Talladega Superspeedway.
Mike Snow -- The Auto Channel