Good Pocono memories for Jarrett

Posted: August 01, 2014

POCONO RACEWAY is a pivotal venue in Dale Jarrett's racing career. Jarrett, now an ESPN racing analyst, won three times at Pocono. His latest victory was in 2002, but his first, in 1995, stands out for him.

"That was a crucial time in my career," Jarrett said yesterday in a telephone interview. "I signed to drive the [No.] 28 car for Robert Yates after Ernie Irvan was injured the year before. It was a 1-year deal.

"Things had not gone well up to that point. Then we won at Pocono and ran well at Indy [third place]. We beat Jeff Gordon [at Pocono] and he's really good there. That win really opened some doors for me."

Jarrett finished the '95 season with eight other top-five finishes.

Still driving for Yates, he opened the next year by winning his second Daytona 500. He won three other races in '96 and by '99 he was the series champion. Jarrett won 32 career races and was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame earlier this year. He and his father, Ned, also a Hall of Famer, are only the second father and son to win Cup championships.

Jarrett will be at Pocono Sunday, along with former crew chief Andy Petree and race anchor Allen Bestwick. It will be ESPN's final race telecast from Pocono for at least 10 years, the length of the Fox/NBC contract. Next year NBC Sports takes over the second half of NASCAR telecasts. Veteran driver Jeff Burton (21 career Cup W's) and Steve Letarte, stepping down as Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief, will be NBC's analysts.

"Pocono has always been one of my favorite tracks," Jarrett said. "It's such a challenging track with its three different corners. I figured out some things early that I needed to do."

While Jarrett doesn't have a TV role for next year yet, he'll be keeping an eye on NASCAR. Like many others, he is impressed with the new generation of racers, including Kyle Larson, Austin and Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr.

"I'm pretty sure Kyle Larson will win a [Cup] race before the year is over," Jarrett said. "Chase will be in Cup either next year or the year after. Ryan is just looking for the right opportunity.

"Young drivers have to learn how to win in trucks and Nationwide. When you jump into Cup, you're going against the best and probably won't win [right away]."

'Coach' Mark Martin

Good news for Mark Martin fans: No, he's not returning as a racer. Martin, 55, has signed on as a driver development guru for Roush Fenway.

Martin was the first driver hired by Jack Roush when Roush founded his NASCAR organization in 1988. Martin won 40 Sprint Cup races (83 overall in NASCAR's top three series). He was runner-up four times in Cup points.

Martin will work primarily with Cup drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne, along with Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed. Veteran Greg Biffle will continue with Roush Fenway next year.

"I'm excited to return to Roush Fenway Racing, as it feels like I'm going home to where I belong," Martin said. "I was fortunate to help build this team from the beginning and it's very humbling to be a part of Jack's team again.

"When Jack first hired me in 1988 we didn't talk about salary or benefits or perks. We talked about testing, tires and putting the right personnel into place to win on the track. That commitment is what stood out to me then, and it's still what stands out to me today.''

Said Roush: "The thing that always stood out about Mark was his unmatched drive to win. Mark put us on the map and I am pleased to have him as a part of our team again. Mark is not only a good friend but he's also a fierce competitor. I have no [doubt] you will see his influence on our young drivers. He understands what it takes to win."

Wheeler crew chief

As expected, Mike Wheeler, the lead engineer for Denny Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota team, will serve as crew chief during Darian Grubb's six-race suspension.

Wheeler, from Southold, Long Island, N.Y., has been with Joe Gibbs Racing since 2002.

Grubb was fined $125,000 by NASCAR and he and car chief Wayne Sherrill were suspended after Hamlin's third-place car failed inspection at Indianapolis last Sunday. NASCAR said it discovered problems with covers in the rear firewall of the driver compartment. Missing or loose covers could vent the driver's area and create more downforce for the car.

Grubb and Sherrill won't return until the first Chase race Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Hamlin is a four-time winner at Pocono.

ARCA, trucks at Pocono

Pocono's racin' weekend begins with an ARCA race today at 5:15 p.m. The Camping World Truck Series race is scheduled for tomorrow at 1 p.m. Fox Sports 1 is carrying both races.


Email: fleiscb@phillynews.com

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