<
>

Yates second (and third) to one

8/13/2004

INDIANAPOLIS -- Robert Yates has built a career on his unique ability to put parts together and find power. He moved up through the ranks at old Holman-Moody Racing and right into a gig in charge of Junior Johnson's operation by taking nickel and dime parts and creating winners.

Now, working with two of the most expensive parts he's ever laid hands on, he's at it again. Except, now he's orchestrating more than horsepower and victories. This time, he's gunning for a championship.

"It's where we need to be," Yates said of his two-car race team. "They're doing a great job. I'm having a lot of fun right now."

Yates gained favor in every race shop he ever worked, earning a reputation for finding horsepower. He won a championship alongside DiGard Racing with driver Bobby Allison in 1983, and continued to gain fame. In 1988, he knew he had only one place left to go: out on his own.

Since Robert Yates Racing was born, whether it was Davey Allison driving alone, Ernie Irvan teamed up with Dale Jarrett, or Dale Jarrett teamed up with Ricky Rudd -- Yates continued to find the horsepower and continued to put contenders on the race track. He even won another championship; this time getting his own name on the trophy.

But Yates wasn't satisfied. No matter what concoction of springs and rubbers and hoses he helped create, he couldn't find a formula for team chemistry.

On Sunday, when Yates drivers Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler finished second and third, respectively, in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Yates sat back and enjoyed a smile.

It's possible the shaggy blond who'd made a name for himself as a master of parts has put together his most powerful package to date: Two teams, two drivers and two crews that just might be fighting each other for the title -- slapping hands and trading laughs along the way.

"I love having a teammate," Sadler said. "It's so much fun, now. We have so much fun on the track and off the track. It's just a really great situation."

That was evident at the Brickyard. While Jeff Gordon ran away from the competition, Jarrett and Sadler battled each other to be best of the rest. Sadler came out on the wrong end of that fight, but he didn't look wounded. The excitement he felt over his best-ever finish at Indy was shared with his happiness for his teammate.

"It's great for the whole Robert Yates organization," Sadler said. "As far as the day goes for points and for a team effort in the shop, that shows you how hard Robert Yates Racing has been working. We only got beat by one little car today.

"For us two to run as good as we did, to be able to compete like that for a second and third, we've come a long way in the last 12 months, you could say. Our race teams are poised. Both of us want to be in the top 10. I think this is a great way to start going in that direction."

Sadler is now solidly among the top 10, sitting in sixth and pretty much assured an invitation to the new chase-for-the-championship format that allows only the top 10 to compete for a title and resets the points distribution so that first and 10th are separated by only 50 points.

Jarrett continued his efforts to crack the top 10, moving up one spot in the standings to 13th and now sitting only 55 points behind 10th place.

"I'm very proud of what Robert Yates Racing has done here today," Jarrett said after congratulating Gordon. "These are the type of days we've been wroking extremely hard for."

It might seem odd that the Yates group walked away from Indy empty-handed, and yet so happy. But to the team, what seems odder is that anyone would actually believe that they left the Brickyard with nothing.

To a team owner who had conjured up horsepower but perpetually searched for chemistry, you'd be hard-pressed to say there weren't any gains made at Indy.

To a veteran driver who had stumbled from the top and desperately was scratching to make it back up, it'd be hard to say that second place meant nothing.

And to a young talent, who had spent his entire Cup career racing without a teammate and finally on Sunday got the opportunity to race his new-found partner in speed for second place at one of the biggest races of the year, how could you say his day was fruitless?

Robert Yates Racing came to Indy with a target on its chest because over the past few months it had proven that it was ready to contend for a title. But what the team really walked away from Indy with was a convincing statement -- one that told them they could be the hunted and still thrive.

"They have a great organization over at Hendricks, but it would be hard to imagine they have anything better than what we have here," said Jarrett, echoing a belief among the entire Yates crew that they're just as good as the team that boasts points-leader Jimmie Johnson and the second-ranked Gordon.

"I know those two guys are pretty close, but I can't imagine anything closer than my teammate and I. He's having a great, great season. He had another good points day. He's got himself solidly in the top 10 now, and we're working our way towards there."

"We do have a lot of fun together," added Sadler, "on the racetrack and off the racetrack. I'm just as happy for his team and my team. I know when we go into the shop on Monday, those guys are going to be smiling ear to ear. That's what makes us feel the best."

Yates didn't watch Gordon and his team owner Rick Hendrick celebrate in front of the television cameras after the checkered fell on the 11th running of the Brickyard. And the television cameras didn't watch Yates, either. He spoke to his two drivers and stole a moment with himself.

Later, he said he still couldn't put into words how he felt and what his teams' performances would mean come season's end.

"Two and three," he said, still shaking his head. "Both of them were great cars. It's some sort of year we're having."

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