Dale Jarrett won the Daytona 500 three times and NASCAR’s Sprint Cup championship in 1999. Like his father, Ned Jarrett, Dale is a member of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame. His father’s call of Dale’s 1993 Daytona win – when Dale Jarrett held off Dale Earnhardt on the final lap while his father urged “go, baby, go!” from the broadcast booth – is one of the most famous moments in the sport.
Dale Jarrett now broadcasts races for NBC, working the pre-race and post-race shows on NASCAR weekends. I asked him five questions. Answers are edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. I know you are close friends with Jeff Gordon. How personally exciting was Gordon’s win last week that put him into NASCAR’s final four in his final season?
A. I sat there and watched it, knowing I was going to have to talk like an analyst, but I was sitting there really being a fan and a friend. It just meant so much to me as someone who was there for most of Jeff Gordon’s career. To see him step up and do the things that you expect a big-time champion to do – it was a very emotional day. It was great to see him get out and act like a 20-year-old after he won.
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NBC allowed Kyle Petty and I to speak as friends instead of just being analysts at one point in the post-race show. That was nice. Now Jeff has an opportunity to go out the right way, and you want him to have that opportunity because he really has done so much for the sport. There are three main characters in my mind that have taken this sport to different levels in different eras: Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon.
Q. The way you’re talking about this win sounds a little like the way your Dad talks about broadcasting your 1993 Daytona win. Do you understand what he was feeling a little better now?
A. Yeah, probably so. I understand where my Dad was coming from, because I have such an admiration and respect for Jeff Gordon. And to be able to see that after knowing everything he’s put forth was just tremendous.
Q. The other big storyline has been Matt Kenseth’s two-race suspension for wrecking Joey Logano in Martinsville in retribution for Logano wrecking him two weeks earlier in Kansas. What sort of penalty did you think Kenseth deserved?
A. I would have liked to have seen Matt Kenseth suspended for the rest of the year, because I don’t think he needs to be a part of the race at Homestead – particularly if Logano wins at Texas or Phoenix and he’s part of the championship four.
Matt is smart enough he’s not going to go wreck Joey Logano again at Homestead, but he could certainly make his life miserable. So I would have liked to have seen three races instead of two.
I was disappointed with how Matt decided to handle this. I felt like the Kansas situation was very much a racing incident. Matt was as much a contributor to what happened there as Joey was.
And that’s when things went wrong. Some things were said later that could have been perceived by Matt that Joey was kind of gloating about spinning him. At that point, NASCAR could have defused it. In over 60 years of this sport, 95 percent of the time when drivers have altercations, NASCAR sits the two competitors down and they talk this out. When you walk out of the trailer, you’re done with it. That didn’t happen in this case.
Still, what Matt Kenseth did was wrong. I think the fact that he waited two weeks and did it with such fierceness and, especially with Logano leading the race, that was wrong.
Q. Who did you originally pick among the 16 playoff drivers to win the title, and who would you pick now?
A. It’s kind of ironic, but I picked Matt Kenseth to win it all, and here I am saying he should be suspended the last three races. He’s out of the Chase anyway at this point.
So now my new final four is Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. I believe Logano will find a way to win at Texas and get back there. He better do it in Texas, though, because Harvick usually dominates at Phoenix.
And my pick to win it all? Jeff Gordon.
Q. As a longtime TV analyst, for both ESPN and NBC, who do you admire as a broadcaster in any sport?
A. If you had asked me that a number of years ago, I would have said John Madden. But now it is Cris Collinsworth. He wasn’t the greatest NFL receiver of all time, but he’s so well-prepared and he’s very informative. I know more every week after I listen to him on a ‘Sunday Night Football’ game.