Dale Jarrett could be excused if he shudders when he drives his personal car into Martinsville Speedway.
The nearly flat, .526-mile oval in the hills of southern Virginia has not been a very welcoming place for the second-generation NASCAR driving star.
Since he ran his first race here in 1984, Jarrett has managed seven top-10 finishes in 26 starts, including two thirds. One of those third-place finishes came in the spring of 1998.
Since then, Jarrett has finished 42nd and eighth at Martinsville--typical of his mixed results here over the years.
"We're still not as good at this track as we'd like to be," said Jarrett, who holds a 257-point lead over Mark Martin in the season standings heading into Sunday's NAPA AutoCare 500.
Jarrett built most of his lead with 20 top-10 finishes--including 18 top-fives and all four of his wins--in the first 22 races of 1999.
Since then, he has been inconsistent, with two thirds and finishes of 38th, 16th and 18th in his last five races.
It hasn't been disastrous, but a championship that was practically conceded to Jarrett when he held a 314-point lead after the Michigan Speedway race Aug. 22 has at least been put in question with seven races remaining. On Sunday, Jarrett will start 14th in the 43-car field.
Martin, who won here in the spring of 1992 and has finished third and fifth in his last two Martinsville races, will start sixth Sunday. He is only seven points ahead of third-place Bobby Labonte in the season race, 27 in front of rookie Tony Stewart.
Winston Cup Notes: Hut Stricklin was the only driver who managed to qualify yesterday for the Martinsville race. Added to the lineup as provisional starters, based on team-owner points, were Stewart, seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, Chad Little, Johnny Benson, rookie Elliott Sadler, Jerry Nadeau and Dave Marcis.
Sent home were Dick Trickle, Ron Hornaday, Tim Fedewa and Morgan Shepherd.