Dale “It’s been fun, but I’m off to join the biggest promoter in the world, oh, and did I mention I’m taking my sponsor with me?” Jarrett
2006 Ride: No. 88 UPS Ford Fusion
2006 Owner: Robert Yates
2006 Crew Chief: Slugger Labbe (Feb.-July)/Butch Hylton (July-Nov.)
Stats: 36 races, zero wins, one top five, four top 10s, 23rd in points.
High Point: The highest point for Jarrett in 2006 had nothing to do with being on the racetrack. In May, he finally announced, once and for all, that he would be leaving RYR to join Michael Waltrip Racing, jumping from Ford to Toyota at the end of the ’06 season.
“That was a decision that was a tough one, but it was the best decision for me personally, as well as my family,” Jarrett said. A reported $20 million, two-year deal from Toyota and MWR certainly made his “family decision” a whole lot easier.
During what became his final season at RYR, a fourth-place finish at the Kansas Speedway in October was the lone bright spot the team had to offer during as year where highlights were few and far between.
Low Point: The entire ’06 season. With team owner Yates implementing various crew changes throughout the year to jumpstart both of his teams, things never did seem to quite gel with the No. 88 bunch. An attitude of “just get through the rest of the year” seemed to prevail after Jarrett announced he was leaving in May; 14 consecutive finishes out of the top 20 following that decision caused Jarrett to plummet from 10th to 26th in points by the end of August.
Summary: As noted above, the entire season was nothing less than a disappointment for the 1999 Nextel Cup champ. The 23rd-place finish in the standings for ’06 marked only the second time in 12 years with RYR that DJ has finished outside the top 15 in driver points. While Jarrett and Yates had many successes in the past and will part as friends, the time had come to end an era in the history of RYR; it was clear this pairing was no longer delivering the top-notch results required for success.
2007 Outlook: Dale takes sponsor UPS and joins Michael Waltrip Racing and Toyota, creating a clean slate for both to write their own history on.
“It’s a new challenge for me, and there’s not a lot of people in sports that get to do something totally new and take a big chance like I am when you’re 50 years old,” said Jarrett of his new opportunity. “I like the challenge it presents and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor with a new team, and with a new manufacturer coming in. To have a hand in developing their entire program is a challenge I look forward to.”
While Dale will still enjoy UPS’ support, he will no longer be in the No. 88. The new number for the MWR UPS Toyota Camry will be No. 44; with the champion’s provisional in hand for the first five races next season, Jarrett has no worries about missing races with his new team, and can instead concentrate on building a program that’s capable of making a run at the Chase in 2008, a season that will likely mark Jarrett’s last attempt at full-time competition in Nextel Cup.