We all know Dale Jarrett as a NASCAR Hall of Famer and the 1999 Winston Cup Champion, but his road to glory began way back in 1991 when he scored his first Winston Cup win in a photo finish with Davey Allison at Michigan. As the Sprint Cup Series heads to Michigan this weekend, this week’s edition of “Throwback Thursday Theater” will look back at that race, the 1991 Champion Spark Plug 400.
Heading into Michigan, Jarrett had run six seasons in the Cup Series, with only three of them being full-time. Over those six seasons, Jarrett had been a member of a few different teams, but the team that gave him his big break was none other than the Wood Brothers and their famous No. 21 car, which Jarrett was piloting that day in the Irish Hills.
Through the majority of the race, the lead swapped between 12 different drivers, with Allison leading the lion’s share of the race. With 12 laps remaining, the race was shaping up to be a fuel mileage event as many Michigan races have, but when the caution flag flew on lap 188 for debris as Allison was securely in the race lead, the entire outcome of the race changed.
Under caution, the leaders all came down pit road for service, but the No. 21 team of Jarrett rolled the dice and took fuel only, while the rest of the leaders had taken tires and fuel. The gamble put Jarrett out in front on the restart and set up one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR history.
When the race restarted, Jarrett was able to take off with the lead as Allison quickly jumped up to second and set his sights on Jarrett’s Ford. Allison ran in Jarrett’s tire tracks up until two laps to go, when he swung wide through Turns 3 and 4 and was able to beat Jarrett to the line as the white flag flew.
Both Jarrett and Allison remained side-by-side throughout the final lap, with Jarrett having the advantage at certain points of the track and Allison with the advantage at others. Coming off of Turn 4, the two drivers were at a dead heat and began bouncing off of each other heading to the finish line. Just before they crossed the line, Jarrett was able to get his nose just out in front of Allison’s and he was able to score his first win in NASCAR’s premier series.
To gauge the intensity of the finish and just how close it was, the call by ESPN announcer Bob Jenkins says it all.
“It’s going to be a photo finish! They touch coming down through the tri-oval! At the line, who wins it?! I believe it’s Dale Jarrett!”
Along with the win being the first win in the Cup Series for Jarrett, the win was also the first for the Wood Brothers since 1987 when Kyle Petty won at Charlotte.
“First of all, I want to say, Kelley, I love you, sorry you couldn’t be here for the first one. Dad, I’m glad you got to see it. Next thing, these Wood Brothers are something else, aren’t they? They did a great job. What a call there at the end. That was the fastest that the car had been and the best it drove and they said let’s leave those tires on and just get a splash of gas and that’s what won me the race. I appreciate Davey; I raced him awfully hard there. I hope he understands that’s the first one and I wanted it awfully bad. Thanks to Citgo for giving me this opportunity. Ford, I certainly appreciate everything they’ve done for me and these guys are just great,” Jarrett said from victory lane.
“I’ve got to congratulate Dale Jarrett for the great race he drove. Those guys gambled on that last caution and they did the right thing. We put on four tires and the car was just a little bit tight. I raced him as hard as I could. He raced me clean, I raced him clean, and he beat us. We’ll come out of here with a second place. I think we led the most laps and if we did, that’s five extra points. We’ll take second place today and go to Bristol next week,” said Allison.