2007 Ride: No. 44 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
2007 Primary Sponsor: UPS
2007 Owner: Michael Waltrip
2007 Crew Chiefs: Matt Borland (Feb. – May); Jason Burdett (May – Nov.)
2007 Stats: 24 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 0 poles, 41st in points
High Point: Boy, that’s a tough one! While optimism was high at the onset of Toyota’s inaugural Cup season – led by past champion Jarrett – things just never seemed to materialize. After using up all of his past champion’s provisionals, the newly formed No. 44 team had to rely solely on “timing in” to get into the field for most of the season. While DJ did manage to qualify in on time for 18 of the 24 races that he participated in – often at the expense of one of his teammates – he never started in the top 20 until late September.
At Dover, he qualified 19th; the following week at Kansas, DJ and the No. 44 UPS Camry started 13th. These late-season qualifying improvements culminated in a third-place start in Atlanta, the 33rd race of the season – setting Jarrett up for a late-season “surge.” DJ’s best finish of the year came in the season finale at Homestead where, after starting 26th, he brought it home in the 17th spot – his second top 20 in the final three events of ’07.
Low Point: Pretty much any of the races that DJ failed to qualify for throughout the year. In all, he missed a dozen of 36 events, marking the first time he failed to qualify for a Cup race since Charlotte in October of 1994. While it was nice to hear him in the announcing booth for a few of the races, I’m sure he would have rather been actually on the track racing.
Summary: All in all, while the new No. 44 team knew they had a tough row to hoe, no one at Michael Waltrip Racing, UPS or Toyota could have envisioned the absolutely dismal way that the year progressed. While no one races without the hope of winning, it became evident early on that, to DJ and the UPS crew, just getting into the race was a “win” in and of itself.
The pairing of former Penske Racing crew chief Matt Borland with Jarrett didn’t work out, and by the time the two parted in May, the season was already a lost cause. Finishing the year without a top-10 finish for the first time since 1986, the 2007 Cup season was by far one of the hardest to endure for Jarrett in his 23 years of NASCAR Cup competition.
Although the deal signed with Michael Waltrip Racing was for two full seasons, in October Jarrett announced that he would be retiring from NASCAR Cup competition in early 2008. He will run the first five races next year for the UPS Toyota; then, DJ’s final start as a NASCAR driver will come at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in May for the 2008 All-Star Race.
2008 Outlook: Jarrett, ever the team player, once again having his past champion’s provisionals to fall back on, will attempt to race the No. 44 UPS Camry into the Top 35 before handing over the reins to the up and coming David Reutimann. With signs of improvement late last season, Jarrett is hopeful to end his career on a high note – especially with two new Toyota teams in Joe Gibbs Racing and Hall of Fame Racing coming on board.
“We’re probably about 14 races behind where I thought we would be,” says Jim Aust, Vice President of Motorsports for Toyota said about 2008. “We expected to run in the top 15 by midseason, and we moved in on that at the end of the season. Overall, the consistency picked up, but we still have plenty of work to do in order to compete with the Hendrick, Childress and Roush teams.”
Hopefully for Jarrett, the improvement will come sooner rather than later, putting a positive footnote on the difficult choice to put an end to his driving career.
“This is obviously a decision that required a lot of thought and consideration, and it is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” said Jarrett. “I’ve been fortunate to have one of the best NASCAR sponsors in UPS and I’m first and foremost a competitor. The desire to compete is the reason why I have continued as a driver in the Nextel Cup Series. But I’ve come to the decision to get out of the racecar, and while I’ll miss being a driver, I am looking forward to the next phase of my life and career.”
Thank you, Dale Jarrett! You will be sorely missed.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: C-
2007 Grade: D
Dale Jarrett Career Grade: A+++!
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