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Inside Motor Sports


At age 42, Dale Jarrett finally locked up his first Winston Cup

Fifteen-year veteran Dale Jarrett won his first Winston Cup
championship and Tony Stewart became the winningest rookie in
NASCAR history at the Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway
on Sunday. Jarrett, who needed to finish eighth or better to
clinch the title, came in fifth, 14.77 seconds behind Stewart,
who became the only driver to win three races in his first full
season on the circuit. Jarrett, 42, became the second-oldest
first-time Winston Cup champion--Bobby Allison was 45 when he
won in 1983--and made the Nov. 21 season finale in Atlanta
largely inconsequential.

"I'll be 43 in a few weeks, and if [being that old] is what it
takes, that's fine," said Jarrett. "All you can do is work hard
and try to put yourself in the best situation you can at the
proper time."

Jarrett's timing looked awful when he joined tragedy-riddled
Robert Yates Racing in November 1994, replacing Ernie Irvan, who
had nearly died three months earlier from injuries suffered in a
crash in Brooklyn, Mich. Irvan had replaced Davey Allison, who
had died in a helicopter crash in July 1993. Jarrett won only
one race in his first year driving for Yates and was heavily
criticized by media and fans, who considered him an inadequate
replacement. "There were people who said, essentially, that I
couldn't drive a lick," says Jarrett.

After Jarrett clinched the championship on Sunday, Yates broke
into tears remembering how he and Davey Allison had started the
team, but the car owner composed himself and beamed as he hugged
Jarrett. "To all the people who were second-guessing our
[hiring] move," Yates said, addressing the media, "after all the
things he's had to shoulder and after the way he shouldered them
all--suck it up, guys! He can get the job done."

The same can be said of the 28-year-old Stewart. On Nov. 7 in
Phoenix he became the first rookie since Davey Allison in '87 to
win two races in a season. On Sunday he became the first rookie
to win back-to-back events since Nelson Stacy in '62. Not since
Dale Earnhardt in '80 has a rookie of the year gone on to win
the Winston Cup as a sophomore, but Stewart's thunderous start
makes him appear capable of keeping Jarrett's reign short.


With the six-year, $2.47 billion deal with Fox, NBC and Turner
Sports that was finalized last week, NASCAR jumps from sixth to
third in TV revenue among professional sports organizations,
behind only the NFL and the NBA. When the package takes effect
in February 2001, NASCAR will reap more annually ($412 million)
than Major League Baseball ($340 million) or the NHL ($120
million). Because the Winston Cup schedule includes only 34
races a year, NASCAR's rights fees will average $12.12 million
per event, the highest in regular-season professional sports.

Why the spike in network interest? David Hill, chairman of Fox
Sports Television, which put up $1.27 billion for the first 18
races each year, pointed to the ratings. "Winston Cup is the
Number 2 [watched] sport on television in the regular season,"
he said last Friday. "It trails the NFL [in the Nielsen ratings]
but beats the most recent regular seasons of the NBA, Major
League Baseball and the NHL, and also beats the PGA average.
Winston Cup is second in the male demographic. It beats the NBA
by 27 percent with males 18 to 34."

Auto racing fans have spent the '90s surfing six broadcast and
cable networks to find Winston Cup races but won't have to
change channels as often in the future. Fox will air the first
half of the NASCAR season, and NBC and Turner will share the
second. The Daytona 500 telecast will alternate between Fox and
NBC. Hill says channel stability alone could boost NASCAR
ratings two points, or about 30%. Bray Cary, NASCAR's vice
president of broadcasting, is more conservative, hoping for an
increase of 10% to 20%.

NASCAR's deal could more than double race purses, to an average
of about $5 million an event. Tracks will strike it rich,
getting 65% of TV revenue, with NASCAR getting 10%.


Most top-echelon CART teams plan to buy IRL-specification cars
and engines in an attempt to qualify for next May's Indianapolis
500. But it's a one-race capitulation that doesn't signal an end
to the four-year-old war between the rival open-wheel
organizations and is unlikely to restore much of the tarnished
race's prestige.

COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE TIEDEMANN Jarrett (88) didn't lead for long but ran well enough to join his father, Ned, as a Winston Cup champion.