The Frontstretch: Loyalty Can Only Take You So Far by Thomas Bowles -- Sunday May 14, 2006

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Loyalty Can Only Take You So Far

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Sunday May 14, 2006


After a Silly Season in which drivers ran from ride to ride faster than Denny Hamlin could truck it around his hauler, it’s easy to question the loyalty shown from drivers to owners in the Nextel Cup garage these days. Contract issues between Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray that forced the hands of their former employers have forever altered the climate under which this racing community operates, possibly for good.

With betrayals and defections still fresh in one’s head, the first move of Silly Season 2006 has made it easy to question loyalty once again, this time with Dale Jarrett. At 49 years old and with time running short on his NASCAR life, Jarrett announced this weekend he was bolting from his Robert Yates Racing ride to newcomer Toyota for the final two years of his career. With 12 years under his belt at Yates, Jarrett has been soundly criticized in several circles for the move, especially when the recipient of his services is being given the equivalent of the "evil eye" by nervous competition. That’s a shame for Jarrett, because he should be applauded for this decision, for having the guts to stand up and take such a big risk so late in his racing life.

There’s no doubt Jarrett is leaving both an organization and a manufacturer through which he’s spent the best years of his career. Originally a temporary replacement for an injured Ernie Irvan to start the 1995 season, Jarrett has parlayed that opportunity with Robert Yates into a successful partnership that’s included two Daytona 500 wins and a Nextel Cup championship in 1999. Jarrett’s relationship with Ford runs even deeper, with his first Cup win being secured behind the wheel of a Wood Brothers Ford back in 1991.

The decision doesn’t come down to loyalty, though, and it’s not about the money (although at a reported $20 million for two seasons, it’s a nice bonus). This is a difficult admission by Jarrett that his time at Yates has simply run its course. After finishing in the Top 10 in points every season from 1996-2002, Jarrett’s finished 26th, 15th, and 15th the last three years. Since the beginning of that stretch in 2003, Jarrett’s only registered eleven Top 5 finishes—- in comparison, he had 24 Top 5s in ONE season during his championship year of 1999.

It’s not like the 88 team hasn’t been trying to recreate that success with top talent. The UPS car is currently on crew chief number six right now since 2002, Slugger Labbe, but the 88 team still finds itself consistently mediocre, with brilliance on the track being the exception, not the rule. Former crew chief Mike Ford is currently making magic with rookie Denny Hamlin, and Jimmy Elledge is doing the same for Reed Sorenson. Brad Parrott and Shawn Parker were talented crew chiefs in their own right. No restructuring Yates could do, however, seems to ever replace the chemistry Jarrett and former crew chief Todd Parrott had during their years together. Parrott was initially replaced at the end of the 2001 season, a move that, while Yates had his reasons, broke the back of an organization that has yet to get itself fixed. While Parrott’s come back for several short stints since to run the 88 car, things have never been the same; that magic communication between driver and crew chief had simply run its course.

Make no mistake, Jarrett could have finished off his career with Yates without a problem. A marketing machine, he’s beloved by sponsors, appreciated by teammate Elliott Sadler (signed through 2008, the year Jarrett plans to retire) and still had the respect of his organization.

Of course, all that gushing doesn’t add up to race wins, and all that marketing genius doesn’t stop a gentle fade into obscurity on the racetrack. Take the case of the Labontes as examples. Terry Labonte chose to remain loyal to Rick Hendrick for the final few years of his career in another situation where chemistry had run its course, and nearly a whimper has been heard of him on the track since. Meanwhile, brother Bobby left Joe Gibbs under similar circumstances at Jarrett and is beginning to enjoy a bit of a career renaissance at Petty Enterprises. Of course, Labonte is being lauded with praise for his decision now; but it’s easier to get the pats on the back when you’re working for a legend and not for the new kid on the block.

Certainly, moving to Toyota has its share of risks for Jarrett; simply take a look at the way Waltrip’s team has run this year. There are no guarantees Toyota money will produce instant results, and Jarrett doesn’t have the longevity needed to wait. On the other hand, if Toyota’s effort is anything like Dodge’s triumphant return to the circuit in 2001, Jarrett could have a handful of wins waiting for him, as well as possible spot in the Chase not once, but twice for a chance at that long-coveted second championship that would allow Dale to tie his dad in the record books. That’s a far better outlook than his last two years at Yates would likely have ever brought him.

No one knows what the move will bring, and that’s the beauty of it for Jarrett, giving him an opportunity to clear his conscience as to whether it was the driver or the team holding things back at Yates all this time. In a changing NASCAR world, there’s a difference between being loyal and being realistic; Jarrett chose to be realistic, and risky at the same time. There’s no reason to question that, other than to wish him luck the gamble pays off.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

05/15/2006 05:53 AM

Benedict Jarrett ?? The loyalty displayed by Dale is the antithesis of the unselfish act exhibited by Mark Martin. I hope Dale and Mikey enjoy the lack of success they deserve.

05/15/2006 06:53 AM

I was new as a NASCAR Fan when DJ won his first Daytona 500. I chose him as my favorite driver at that time and have cheered for him and RYR ever since. I will continue to be a DJ fan and a RYR fan. DJ is doing what he thinks is best for he and his family. Loyalty is a wonderful thing…but business is business.

Rajeev Jaswal
05/15/2006 07:05 AM

It’s easy to blame DJ for defecting to the Toyota camp. But in my opinion he didn’t do anything wrong. His performance with RYR has been below par for any number of reasons; lack of good setup, lack of Chemistry, or simply lack of synergy within the entire group. DJ has been with RYR for a long time and I guess it’s time to move on. People are criticizing his move primarily because he is going to drive Toyota. Had he moved to a Chevy or Dodge camp no one would have made such a big fuss about it. I sincerely wish DJ good luck and hope he returns to championship form. And I hope Michael Waltrip retires and stops appearing in those agonizingly stupid commercials.

M. B. Voelker
05/15/2006 07:23 AM

Funny how so many fans seem to believe that once a driver signs with a team he’s forever enslaved and loses all right to attempt to better himself—by whatever measure he chooses to judge job improvement by.

People say “they make more than enough money”, but if its immoral to say that a pennies a day sweatshop worker can’t try to better his lot its also immoral to say that an athlete earning a million a year can’t try to better his lot. There’s no monetary threshhold where enslavement becomes acceptable and if you aren’t free to choose a change then you’re enslaved even if the chains are forged of gold and studded with diamonds.

As for loyalty to an employer …
If “loyalty” to an employer causes a person to accept less—in money or other benefits, including intangibles like working conditions—than he could get elsewhere then that “loyalty” is a betrayal of the person’s first true loyalty; his loyalty to his family. The only things that take precedence over getting your family the best possible situation are God and country.

Contracts come to an end for a reason—so that both parties, owner and driver, can evaluate their situation and make a choice whether or not to continue the relationship. A driver has just as much right to not continue with an owner as an owner has to choose a new driver.

05/15/2006 08:12 AM

I am just sick! DJ was my favorite. I am very suspicious of Toyota and the cash. I feel my many years of NASCAR watching might soon end. I keep looking at what toyota has done to every other form of racing they have done. OUTSPEND< OUTSPEND< OUTSPEND< LEAVE

05/15/2006 09:36 AM

I hate to see DJ go, and my days of rooting for him will be over when he slides into a Toyota, but I have no ill feelings toward him. Clearly, the past 3 seasons at RYR have been lackluster, if not depressing. Its a huge loss to Ford, as DJ is a great spokesman, but the lack of success of the 88 team in recent years warrants some type of change. Its regrettable that he had to leave the Ford camp, but maybe Ford got the best years out of him.

steve tignor
05/15/2006 09:41 AM

my, my my how quickly we forget.the last time either of those ryr cars were good for an entire year was 2000 thru 2002.but the ol dj was not happy being outrun by the new stepchild ricky rudd so he ran him out of town and dj got a young buck that would be a good soldier and follow dj around like a puppy and they have not been sucessful out the stats for 2000-2002 then 2003-2005 and the FACTS speak for themselves!

05/15/2006 10:18 AM

I have much animosity for Jarrett defecting to the Toyota camp. DJ certainly didn’t set the world on fire during his tenure in the #28 Ford in 1996. But Robert Yates is an honorable man and instead of letting Jarret go after his one year contract expired, he built him his own team from the ground up! What ever happened to giving some loyalty to the one who made you a superstar.

Given Jarrett’s relatively lackluster time in Gibb’s #18, he might well be racing with a 4th rate team (or none at all) if Robert hadn’t stepped up to the plate.

05/15/2006 11:55 AM

Come on people…Money is money and a job is a job. No matter the money you make it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t get a head. Many of us have left our jobs to search for greener pastures. I would think racing is no different. I know the money seems like the issue but I think it’s winning and having the resources that DJ wants. But I also know you can blame everything and everyone else for your problems when the problem is actually facing you in the mirror every morning.

05/15/2006 01:24 PM

If you do a little digging you will see that the main reason DJ left is because of the options they are going to give him after he is done racing. He had expressed time and time again that one day he wanted his own team and Toyota is going to give him that and then some. Money couldn’t have meant too much because RYR matched the offer and he still left. Toyota is not doing anything different than any other manufacturer if the roles were reversed, they are just better at it. Every now and then someone comes along that raises the bar and forces the competition to play catch-up. It happen’s in all forms of racing and this is no acception. If you are one of those that hate Toyota because they are foreign then go take a long hard look at your GM, Ford or Dodge because they have more foreign parts than Toyota’s!

05/15/2006 05:43 PM

Every one says about DJ leaving Yates Racing. But remember what Yates always says that he picks to resign the driver and sponsor the year before their contract expire. So if Yates wanted Jarrett to stay, why didn’t he resign DJ last year. DJ made a good point how RYR has fallen behind, by saying that the 88 & 38 teams don’t even have a engineer at the race track like every other team does. Even the 32 team has engineers for them. I just think RYR wasn’t keep up with the changes, because with yates making the Ford motor for Roush also, it has to be the cars cause roush is having sucess. Maybe change will do them both good, each one can get a fresh start and rebuild to a winner.

And for people complaining that DJ jumped to the “foreign” auto make. Question to ask which is the “american” make.
Ford Fusion wqas design by mazda [extended mazada 6] and is made in mexico, chevy monto carlo is made in canada, doddge chager is owned by a company in germany and is biult in canada. And the toyota Camary is made in the USA. I not defending toyota, but if Nascar requires the car to be made in the USA, guess Toyota is the only one that could race.

05/15/2006 11:31 PM

D J used Ford and Yates to get rich and win a champship and now told them .I don’t care that you took a nobody an made me rick. All I am only thing about myself. Not that if it wasent for you i would have been out of NASCAE 10 years a go

Lee ( LTD )
05/16/2006 06:48 PM

Sure,I’ve been with my company for over 11yrs.And they have helped me in many ways.But they can only offer me so much.If I feel that I’m I am getting stale and there is no more advancement and that I can no longer excel,I’m going to be open eyes and ears.Besides,I work for someone that would want me to do better if it came along.Good luck DJ and I will be behind you 100%...Lee

05/22/2006 11:47 AM

I have been a DJ fan for many years. I enjoyed all those races he won. I was so used to seeing him up front. DJ did not just suddenly forget how to drive. I have asked many times this year. Robert Yates gave Roush his engines – that’s the way Ford wanted it. What did Yates get out of it? It seems that Roush should have given Yates his setups for the cars. I don’t blame DJ for leaving. Ford and Roush sold him and Elliott out by giving Roush the engines to ourtrun them. And Elliott and DJ can’t even get a decent car. I will always be a DJ fan.

05/25/2006 06:21 AM

Listen folks. DJ’s decision is by far the RIGHT one. Since the joining of the YATES and Rousch engine programs, it only takes a short look at the performance of each to see who got the better end of the deal. The Rousch cars consistently run in the top 10 every week while Elliot Sadler and DJ are in the bottom of the pack. I have been DJ’s biggest fan since the early 90’s and it hurts me deeply to see such a talented driver and great person performing the way he has the past 3 seasons. So, for everyone who doubts that he made the right decision, simply wait till next season and see just how much of a step the old man has lost. With quality equipment and a good crew there is no doubt in my mind the DJ can still get it done.


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Did You Notice? ... Drivers Still Make A Difference... But Silly Cautions Don't
Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters
Did You Notice? ... Keep On Asking, And You Will Receive A Qualifying Sigh Of Relief

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