Dale Jarrett doesn't deny he is feeling some pressure as the Winston Cup season winds to a close. But Jarrett, who will go into today's Checker Auto Parts-Dura Lube 500K at Phoenix International Raceway with a seemingly insurmountable 246-point lead over Bobby Labonte and 334 over Mark Martin, likes his position.
He's far enough ahead that, if everything fell just right, Jarrett could be the champion when the checkered flag waves at the end of the 500-kilometer, 312-lap race.
To do that, he would have to gain 126 more points on Labonte. That's the difference between first (175 points) and 38th (49 points) in the 43-car field. Leading at least one lap is worth another five points, with five more going to the driver that leads the most laps.
"I think it's more up to Bobby Labonte whether we [clinch the title] here or not," Jarrett said. "But we just have to do what we can do. We realize that right now, in particular, everything is kind of in our own hands as to how we want this to turn out. It doesn't matter how good Bobby runs or how good Mark runs, it's all dependent upon what we do, and if we do our job everything should be fine." . . .
The present and future of NASCAR were on display yesterday, with Jeff Gordon winning the inaugural Outback Steakhouse 200 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. wrapping up his second straight NASCAR Busch Series championship.
Gordon took the lead in the 200-lap event at Phoenix International Raceway with a strong outside pass on Jimmy Spencer 20 laps from the end, then pulled away to win his first Busch Series race since October 1992.
The win came in his sixth and last start in a limited return to the Busch Series for the driver who moved up to Winston Cup in 1993 and has won three of the last four championships in NASCAR's top stock car series.
Andre Agassi endured some sparkling early play from Nicolas Lapentti before easing to a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win in the semifinals of the Paris Open.
The world No. 1 will play unseeded Marat Safin in the final after the Russian teenager outlasted Michael Chang, 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, in the second semifinal.
Safin has happy memories of matches against Agassi in Paris: He won a five-set thriller against the American in last year's French Open. . . .
Second-seeded Nathalie Tauziat of France earned a return trip to the final of the Sparkassen Cup in Leipzig, Germany, by outlasting Anke Huber over three sets.
Tauziat, the world's ninth-ranked player, blasted her 11th ace to close out the match against the German, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, at the $530,000 event.
In today's final, Tauziat will face Kveta Hrdlickova, a Czech qualifier who upset top-seeded Mary Pierce of France, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. For the 67th-ranked player, it was her biggest career win. . . .
Jennifer Capriati squandered a huge third-set lead and four match points before beating Amy Frazier, 2-6, 6-0, 7-5, in the semifinals of the Bell Challenge in Quebec City. Capriati's opponent in today's final will be fellow American and third-seeded Chanda Rubin, who beat flu-stricken defending champion Tara Snyder, 6-1, 6-3, in a repeat of last year's final.
Tale of Two Bruces
Bruce Fleisher and Bruce Summerhays found different ways to get to the same place, sharing the lead through three rounds of the Senior Tour Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Fleisher, the tour's money leader at more than $2.3 million, plodded through with a one-bogey 66, while Summerhays's 68 included an eagle, a double bogey and one of only two birdies--that was nearly an eagle--on the difficult 430-yard 18th hole.
The two, who shared the opening-round lead, are at 10-under 206, two strokes ahead of George Archer and three in front of Gary McCord. . . .
Maria Hjorth tied her career low round with an 8-under-par 64 to take a two-stroke lead at the LPGA Mizuno Classic in Otsu, Japan.
Hjorth, who has been fighting all week with an airline that lost her golf clubs, sank three birdies on the front nine and five more on the back side for her third 64 of the season.
Hjorth played the first round Friday with a set of borrowed clubs from the Seta Golf Club. When her clubs finally arrived, she decided to stick with her loaned irons, driver and putter.
"We already knew the yardage pretty well with those irons," she said, "so we decided, 'Why switch?' I just put my own fairway woods and wedges in the bag and it seemed to work out just fine."
Australia Is Champion
Australian fullback Matthew Burke scored 25 points as the Wallabies defeated France, 35-12, in the World Cup final in Cardiff, Wales. Burke's tally left him one point short of finishing as the tournament's leading scorer. Argentina's Gonzalo Quesada ended the Cup with 102 points to Burke's 101.
Saluter Stands Alone
Saluter became the most successful timber horse in National Steeplechase Association history, winning his 21st career timber race at the 65th running of the Montpelier Hunt Races. Saluter's record-breaking victory came in the $25,000 Virginia Hunt Cup.
Ridden by trainer Jack Fisher, the 10-year-old gelding started the four-mile course slowly in the field of six. Fisher uncharacteristically had Saluter on the front end for a good portion of the race, but as they turned for home, Saluter widened the margin and jumped the last hurdle by himself.
Fisher was unfazed by the history-making win. "I didn't even like him the first time he ran," he said of Saluter. "It wasn't until his first win did I think about him. I only bought him for $2,500."