The last time Dale Jarrett won a NASCAR Nextel Cup race, he's not sure he cherished the moment the way he should have.
That won't happen this time, the 48-year-old veteran from Hickory, N.C., vowed after breaking a 98-race winless streak with a dramatic victory Sunday in the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
"We were so used to winning in those days, I didn't see any reason we wouldn't just continue right on doing that at least a couple of times each year," Jarrett said of his victory at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham in February 2003. "But over the past couple of years ... we haven't been in position to do that as much. I think we've got some more victories to go, but in case that doesn't happen, we'll make sure we enjoy this one."
Jarrett will certainly have longer to appreciate this one than he did to anticipate it, for it wasn't until he'd already run 500 miles Sunday that he found himself in position to surge by Tony Stewart and get his 32nd career win.
Jarrett was in the lead draft of a dozen or so cars as those who'd avoided or recovered from two major wrecks in the first half of the race pounded toward a finish. He'd purposely kept his No. 88 Ford back out of the swarm for most of the day.
"That time of the race doesn't pay anything," Jarrett said of the early laps, when the two multicar metal storms culled many would-be contenders.
Jarrett was up to sixth by Lap 182 in a race scheduled for 188 laps, but it seemed at that point like all that he might get was a pretty good view as Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman duked it out ahead of him for the win.
"I was sitting there thinking, 'Good gosh, this is going to be wild,'" Jarrett said. "I have no idea what was going to happen at that point. But the opportunity was still there."
After Ken Schrader had a tire go down on Lap 185 to bring out a caution and set up a green-white-checkered finish, opportunity started knocking.
On the restart, Jarrett made a deal to help Stewart try to move past Kenseth and Newman, and he stuck to that plan.
"I did help (Stewart) by the 12 car (Newman) there as we got the white flag," Jarrett said. "But Tony dove to the inside of the 17 (Kenseth) and I couldn't make that move. I was on the outside and the 99 (Carl Edwards) was pushing me. I got in front of the 17 and then he pushed me by the 20 (Stewart). It was just incredible."
Then, Kyle Petty spun on the backstretch and into the inside wall. NASCAR lingered for a moment but finally had to put out the caution.
Since there's no racing back to the line, even to the checkered flag, the race was over.
NASCAR would have to use its computerized scoring loops and videotape to determine the final results, but Jarrett was convinced he'd won. Just for safety's sake, though, he didn't slow as much as he otherwise might have for the caution.
"I know you're supposed to slow down, and I know I saw the caution lights, but I was just making sure I was the first one that got back to the line," Jarrett said. "My emotions were going crazy. I wanted to get to the start-finish line as quick as I could before somebody changed their minds."