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Yates team not looking past Indy

8/8/2004

INDIANAPOLIS -- With one driver in the top 10 and one driver a mere 100 points out, you would think Nextel Cup team owner Robert Yates is obsessing over the points race. You would expect him to have the calculator out every time his boys are on the track. You would think his head was full of numbers and permutations.

You would think.

But this race weekend, you'd be wrong. This Sunday, Yates is preoccupied with nothing more than planting a smoocher on that famous line of bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the Brickyard 400.

"It's really important for Robert Yates that his teams run well at the Brickyard," said driver Elliott Sadler, adding that his team owner is going the extra mile.

Yates's other driver, Dale Jarrett, was the man who piloted Yates's rigs into victory lane here twice. The crew chief on that operation, Todd Parrott, is at the helm of Sadler's program now. Between the two teams, there is a lot of winning experience, and thus cause for high expectations on Yates's part.

"I think we can (win another)," Yates said. "That's the goal. That's what we're all focused on right now."

Jarrett says a victory at Indy would mean a whole lot more than just giving his team owner another feather in his cap -- though that would be nice. It's been years since Jarrett has been at the top of this game, and a win now -- in the midst of what he termed a rebuilding year -- would make a bold statement. It would say things are just about built, already.

"I think this weekend could be huge for anybody in that eighth position back through 15th, [they] could take some momentum from Indy," Jarrett said. "We know what it's done for us in the past when we've won this race and it could be huge for us. ... Obviously, having won there in the past and having a good test a couple of weeks ago, I feel very good about our chances and what that could do for us to get us into that chase for those last 10."

Jarrett can hardly believe he's talking about the chase right now. Of course, he never would have believed he'd fall so far behind in the first place.

"I guess I was thinking that once you reached that level, and then back early in my career didn't know if I would ever get to that level of success, but after achieving that and establishing ourselves as one of the teams to beat week-in and week-out, you didn't ever feel like you would fall down that other side," Jarrett said.

Then, for the first time in seemingly forever he failed to finish among the top 10. And for the first time in forever, he wasn't even a contender. Or so we thought. Jarrett has consistently contended for top 10 finishes this season, showing a lot of promise for next year. But more than that, he's threatening to make a move this season.

"We still have some areas that we have to improve in, certainly," Jarrett said. "We haven't been to victory lane yet, but that's a tall order for a team that really is rebuilding. Now we find ourselves in a position that we could possibly get into the top 10, so we just have to work hard and continue to do those things. But it's been fun to see this group rebuild and get back to a good form of racing."

And while the No. 88 team has been busy fixing wrongs, the 38 team piloted by Sadler has been hitting all the right spots. At sixth in the standings, Sadler and Co. have a considerable cushion. What's more, they have momentum and confidence.

With eight top 10s, four top fives and a victory, the team has been hitting on all cylinders. But Yates still doesn't feel comfortable -- about either of his drivers.

"As much as you want to say don't look behind you, you feel the heat coming," Yates said. "For Elliott, we can't look behind us. We've got to go for it and not worry about trying to sit on anything. For DJ, hey, go for it. Again, sometimes on Monday you wish you had made the more conservative call or you second-guess something, but you're always pushing the edge.

"I think in both of these cases we still have to push the limits. We can't get conservative on either one of them. DJ has more to win, but Elliott has everyone charging hard. It's a serious race from 12th to seventh or eighth place. That is a serious race right now, but being part of it is great."

Being part of it is something Yates likes to talk about a lot.

"Our performance and teamwork and the things that we've done this past year with the changes we made in personnel is something I'm extremely happy with," he said. "...if we can make it back in this top 10 with both of our teams, that would be pretty awesome."

But this weekend, he's not worried about top 10s or championships. Those thoughts are rolling around in the back of his mind. But this weekend, there's something more pressing on the agenda.

"That's what everybody's concentrating on right now," Jarrett said. "That's where all of the efforts are focused."

Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at rfofaria@espnspecial.com.