Dale Jarrett is just five years removed from winning a Nextel Cup championship. But at age 47, he's driving for what he calls a "rebuilding" team.
The No. 88 UPS team finished 26th in the points standings a year ago and is 14th this season heading into this weekend's Brickyard 400. But Jarrett is only 103 points out of 10th place and a spot in the season-ending "Chase for the Championship," putting his reclamation project potentially on the fast track.
Jarrett answered questions earlier this week about his team's progress and his future in the sport.
Question: How do you feel about your 2004 season thus far?
Jarrett: We haven't been to Victory Lane yet, but that's a tall order for a team that really is rebuilding. Now we find ourselves in a position that we could possibly get into the top 10, so we just have to work hard and continue to do those things. But it's been fun to see this group rebuild and get back to a good form of racing.
Question: Four years ago, you guys were at the top of the sport. Now you're talking about rebuilding. How fragile is success in this sport right now?
Jarrett: A lot more than I ever imagined. I guess I was thinking that once you reached that level, you didn't ever feel like you would fall down that other side. But you've seen it happen in our sport and in a lot of other sports, too. We were more than a little bit off last year. We found ourselves moving totally away from the things that made us successful and we had to really search and find the person and the people that were going to make that possible.
As much as we talk about the driver in this business and the amount of credit and blame that we do get as the driver, it's still all about the people that we put in place and having that leadership and direction that makes us successful. So it is very fragile.
It makes you appreciate those times even more. I know that when I do get back to Victory Lane, I'm going to appreciate it more than I ever have and, hopefully, we'll have a lot of those to come. But it's a very difficult business at this point in time.
Question: Could you guys sense this slipping away a little bit or did it come suddenly? At what point did you realize you were in trouble?
Jarrett: I saw it coming a little bit, but not to the point that I ever thought we would get in the position that we were last year. I just felt like we had enough information and people around us that we couldn't fall that far, but even though I spend a good bit of time at the race shop, there were so many things going on that I wasn't aware of that were putting us further behind. I think that it was slowly slipping away, but I think the majority of it came at once and that was probably about a quarter of the way into last year.
Question: How does it feel to be in a rebuilding program at this point in your career?
Jarrett: I'm not frustrated. If we weren't getting anywhere in our rebuilding here, I would probably be frustrated, but I feel like we've made great strides this year. Again, unless you're right there on the inside and know how far down we've gone, I'm not sure that you can really appreciate where we're at.
Even though there are still areas we have to improve in, I think that we're working hard to make those improvements and I see those improvements coming slowly in some areas, but I do have some time here.
And because I love to compete and because I understand the nature of the business and being a part of it for such a long time, I understand that these things, as quickly as we want them to happen, don't always happen like that. So I'm very upbeat.
Question: Bill Elliott moved on to the next great adventure of his life this year. Do you see yourself doing that soon or is this year just a transition to the next 5 or 10 years of your racing life?
Jarrett: I know that this isn't something I'm going to do for 10 more years. I can assure you of that. How many, I don't know. But I know that I have two more years after this and I wanted to lay the groundwork here to get our team back to where we could compete at a high level. Now what will happen after the 2006 season? If I'm still competitive and I feel like we can be competitive week-in and week-out, then I may continue on from there.
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