BRISTOL, Tenn. – Dale Jarrett was honored before the final points race of his career, when NASCAR, his peers and the fans at Bristol Motor Speedway showed their appreciation to the retiring champion.
NASCAR president Mike Helton began the festivities in the pre-race driver meetings by calling Jarrett to the front of the room to present him with a commemorative collage of photos spanning Jarrett’s 24 years in NASCAR.
“Dale, you have been great ambassador, a great person, a classic role model for many of us in this sport,” Helton said. “Personally, I am glad I crossed your path and shared this time with you. I look forward to the rest of our careers moving down the road, hopefully together.
“But we wanted to take just a moment to say, Thank you, congratulate you and join in all of the celebration of your career and your contribution to NASCAR.”
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The 42 other drivers and crew chiefs then gave Jarrett a standing ovation.
Jarrett, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and the 1999 Cup champion, then addressed his fellow drivers for a final time.
“Enjoy this,” Jarrett said. “We all have our time in this, and mine has been fantastic. To me, it has been an honor and a privilege to be able to race in this series and say I raced with and against and sometimes beat the best in the world.
“Thanks for allowing me to do that. Enjoy it. It’s a great sport, and you guys make it what it is.”
Jarrett also was honored during pre-race activities, when his entire family was brought out to the frontstretch as Bristol officials presented him with a series of gifts. Then 33,000 fans along the backstretch flipped placards that spelled “Thanks Dale.”
Finally, Jarrett’s father Ned, a two-time Cup champion, waved the green flag on his son’s final start. Jarrett will also race in the All-Star race in May, then move full-time into ESPN’s broadcast booth.
It’s the same path Ned Jarrett followed through his career.
“He was a better race car driver than I was,” said Ned, “and I think he’ll be a better broadcaster than I was.”
Jarrett’s career ended with an 37th-place finish in Sunday’s race.
“Well, it wasn’t the finish I would have liked,” Jarrett said. “But I really can’t be too upset when you take into consideration the kind of career I have been fortunate enough to have.”