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Dale Jarrett Retires After 24 Years

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RISTOL, Tenn. - Dale Jarrett was honored before the final points race of his career, when NASCAR, his peers and the fans at Bristol Motor Speedway showed their appreciation to the retiring champion.


NASCAR president Mike Helton began the festivities in the pre-race driver meetings by calling Jarrett to the front of the room to present him with a commemorative collage of photos spanning Jarrett's 24 years in NASCAR.


"Dale, you have been great ambassador, a great person, a classic role model for many of us in this sport," Helton said. "Personally, I am glad I crossed your path and shared this time with you. I look forward to the rest of our careers moving down the road, hopefully together.


"But we wanted to take just a moment to say thank you, congratulate you and join in all of the celebration of your career and your contribution to NASCAR."


The 42 other drivers and crew chiefs then gave Jarrett a standing ovation.


Jarrett, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and the 1999 Cup champion, then addressed his fellow drivers for a final time.


"Enjoy this," Jarrett said. "We all have our time in this, and mine has been fantastic. To me, it has been an honor and a privilege to be able to race in this series and say I raced with and against and sometimes beat the best in the world.


"Thanks for allowing me to do that. Enjoy it. It's a great sport, and you guys make it what it is."


Finally, Ned Jarrett, a two-time Cup champion, waved the green flag on his son's final start. Jarrett will also race in the All-Star race in May, then move full-time into ESPN's broadcast booth.


It's the same path Ned Jarrett followed through his career.


"He was a better race car driver than I was," Ned said, "and I think he'll be a better broadcaster than I was."


Jarrett's career ended with an 37th-place finish in Sunday's race.


TOP 35: With his 29th-place finish, Sam Hornish Jr. moved up a spot to 35th in the standings and will be guaranteed a spot in the field when racing resumes in two weeks at Martinsville Speedway.


"We pretty much did what we came here to do and that was to stay out of trouble as much as you can here and finish," said Hornish, a three-time IndyCar Series champion who is off to a slow start in his first season of NASCAR.


Jamie McMurray, Dave Blaney, Dario Franchitti, Regan Smith and Kyle Petty aren't so lucky.


McMurray dropped five spots in the standings to 36th when he was involved in an early wreck and finished 43rd. Blaney was off all day and finished 34th, which kept him at 37th in the standings.


Franchitti, the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion, lost his brakes about 100 laps into the race and finished 36th. He is 38th in the standings.


Smith is 39th in the points, and Petty is 40th. Everyone outside the top 35 must qualify their way into the field at Martinsville on speed during time trials.


SOLID DEBUT: Tampa's Aric Almirola made his first appearance of the season a memorable one, finishing eighth in the car he co-drives with Mark Martin.


Almirola raced in six Cup events last season, with a previous best finish of 26th at Phoenix. He's scheduled to run about a dozen races this season when Martin isn't behind the wheel of the No. 8.


"It feels awesome. To go out and knock the cobwebs off and finish eighth makes my job easy when the car runs as good as it did," Almirola said. "I don't want to sit on the pit box no more! It is what it is. I get to race 12 races and I'll hopefully go get 12 top 10s."


Almirola started last season with Joe Gibbs Racing, but asked for his release when it became clear the team didn't have much seat time for him. He then moved to Ginn Racing, and was absorbed in the merger with Dale Earnhardt Inc. that earned him split seat time with Martin.


The Associated Press

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