Anyone seeking proof that Dale Jarrett's No. 88 Ford team has turned the corner on its rebuilding efforts and begun to stack the bricks toward contention can look in two places: The team's ranking and, more importantly, its attitude.
Not only is Jarrett currently 10 spots better than last year's 20th-place finish, but the team is disappointed in its efforts so far and eager to show what it can really do.
"We haven't had our best efforts yet, so we feel good about where we are right now," said Jarrett, who qualified 34th for Sunday's Subway Fresh 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. "We'll go to work this week and see if we can make some gains."
With seven races down, Jarrett's 10th-place points ranking is his best at this point in the season since 2001. After the 2001 season, the 88 team began a steady decline as the wheels came off the once-stout organization and a multitude of hasty personnel and strategic decisions buried the team.
But Jarrett doesn't feel a sense of relief one would expect from being back to his old form. He and his team owner, Robert Yates, are aware that a large reason for the team's resurgence has been an abundance of the good luck that had once abandoned them. Outside of that, Yates says what he sees most in the 88 team is room for improvement.
"I think we've been lucky because we haven't really raced that well," Yates said. "We don't feel like we're as good as we're capable of being. We're capable of being better and it's not that anyone is dropping the ball, I think we've painted ourselves in less than the best equipment. So we've got three major targets that we're going after and hopefully that will bring us back to where we race in the top 10 instead of luck our way into it."
Yates said the team is fucusing on understanding the tires, aerodynamics and altitudes better. He hopes the result will be a stable of rigs under the roof of the 88 shop that are worthy of the team's lofty ranking -- and capable of taking it even higher.
"We know that we look way different than more successful cars out there, but I'm very confident that we're going to improve," Yates said.
As far as Jarrett is concerned, the fact that the team is running off of luck and working toward skill is a good thing.
"We are in the top 10 in the points and that's good, but we're going to have to step up our program ... if we want to stay there," Jarrett said. "We're in the top 10 and working to stay there rather than sitting outside the top 10 and trying to get in, so that part is good. But we have some work to do if we want to stay there."
In that spirit, the team has increased its efforts in the shop and during testing sessions. The team will head to Kentucky to test its packages for intermediate tracks where aerodynamics play a larger role.
"We've got a test scheduled at Kentucky and hopefully we can get some aero stuff figured out," Jarrett said. "Then we'll go to Phoenix and see if we can get this car consistently finishing in the top 10."
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.