Just a few seasons after he won his 1999 championship in NASCAR’s premier series, Dale Jarrett’s position in the stock-car hierarchy was threatened.
The 2001-02 wave of the so-called “Young Guns” transformed the Cup circuit. As Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman entered the series, the trips to victory lane started to dwindle for establishment veterans such as Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and Bill Elliott.
Nearly a generation later, Jarrett is watching as the same group of drivers that foretold his generation’s exit from NASCAR is facing similar threats from a youthful group of emerging stars that includes Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson.
“This group of (young) drivers, this isn’t saying anything negative, but I see this as a very selfish group, which you have to be to be successful,” Jarrett said on the most recent edition of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “They’re going to race hard. They’ll take what they can get.
“There’s a lot more taking among this group than giving. On the shorter tracks and road courses, it’s going to be fun to watch.”
That type of necessary aggression typifies the drive that today’s youth must show, Jarrett said during the podcast.
“I think it’s the world they grew up in and how hard they had to fight to get there,” the NBCSN analyst said. “Once you get to that point, there’s no reason in changing what you do just because you’re there. You can’t suddenly become a nice guy when you reach the top or you’ll find yourself on the bottom trying to climb to the top again.
“Harvick, Johnson and Kenseth have been in that point, but now they’ve had their success. It’s not that they’re still not selfish, they still want to do well. It’s not taking away any of their great talents and that desire they have inside to want to win every week, but they go about it differently.
“Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, they’ll continue this push they have. One day, it’ll change for them, too, but you have to have a measure of success when you look at that. You still have to be selfish all the way through the last race you run in your career. If you’re not, then you’ve probably driven too long.”
Jarrett won his Cup title shortly before his 43rd birthday, and Harvick, Johnson, Earnhardt and Kenseth all are in a similar timeframe on age now.
“My success came late, but once you get to your 40s, you realize you’re closer to end than anything else,” he said. “You start thinking of things differently. Most of those guys have families. All of that changes the way you go about it.
“That’s one thing I like about some of these young guys. Kyle Busch became a father. Joey Logano recently married. Kyle Larson is a father now. I think that changes your way of looking at so many things. You might ask, ‘How in the world does that make you a changed or better race car driver?’ but it does. There are things that happen that just make you look at things a little bit differently and appreciate things a little more on a bigger scale. Suddenly, you’re having more success, and you’re happier in life, and if you do that, things will be different.”
Jarrett developed a close relationship with Robert Yates Racing teammate Elliott Sadler, who was 18 years younger. He sees a parallel to Johnson’s relationship to Chase Elliott (the Hendrick Motorsports drivers are separated by nearly 20 years).
“You appreciate that that you’ve gotten to that point to help someone,” Jarrett said. “I’m appreciative that Elliott doesn’t have to get out of the race car and say anything about me, but a lot of times, he does. I’m glad I took the time (to help).
“At that time it was if I can help him, he was going to help me, too, and make our organization better. So that’s the way I looked at it. I’m sure Jimmie is the same way. Because once you become an established driver and have the feel you want, things keep changing. So you have to figure out a way to get back to that.
Jimmie probably is looking at it as Chase is fast. He’s doing a lot of things that are really, really good, can I look at what he’s doing and benefit from that? So he’s doing it because he’s a really nice person and a good guy, Jimmie is, but it can also help him down the road.”
During the podcast, Jarrett also discussed:
–Why points leader Kyle Larson has made a breakthrough in performance this season;
–His outspokenness on NASCAR America about disliking the use of restrictor plates at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway for stock cars.
–The differences between being a booth and studio analyst.
You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.