Johnson Takes Atlanta Victory, Dale Jr. 14th Bud Team Runs Among Top-10 Until Late in the Race Jimmie Johnson won for the second time in as many weeks, passing Tony Stewart with a few laps remaining in Sunday's Kobalt 500 at Atlanta ...
Johnson Takes Atlanta Victory, Dale Jr. 14th
Bud Team Runs Among Top-10 Until Late in the Race
Jimmie Johnson won for the second time in as many weeks, passing Tony Stewart with a few laps remaining in Sunday's Kobalt 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Stewart was second, while Matt Kenseth finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team spent much of the afternoon among the top-five and top-10, but fought with a car whose handling deteriorated late in the race to finish in 14th place. The finish breaks a string of three-straight top-five tallies at Atlanta for the Bud team, but does improve their position in the point standings to 26th place after four races. They remain less than 100 points behind the 12th position (the cut-off for the 2007 Chase for the Nextel Cup.)
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 22nd, needed only 21 laps to climb through the pack into the top-10. Once there, they spent much of the rest of the 325-lap race in the top-10. Following the team's first pit stop on lap 37, Dale Jr. restarted in 10th, and then took only four laps to climb into the top-five. After reaching as high as fourth position, the aggressive run began to have an adverse effect on the tires, and Dale Jr. dropped back to tenth before the next pit stop. The cycle continued throughout the mid-section of the race: the team would make a quick pit stop under green flag conditions, climb into the top-five in the short-term but would fall positions as the run continued. Making small adjustments, the Bud crew hit upon a more stable set-up after a lap 128 pit stop. The team remained in the top-10 until late in the race, when a pit stop on lap 310 dropped them to 12th place, and Junior was unable to hold off several challenges in the final laps to finish 14th.
Dale Jr. Quotes: "I'm pretty frustrated right now. I want to finish better than we've been finishing, and so does the rest of this team. Every race this year, we've had times where we were clearly among the fastest cars, but it's just not translated into finishes. Today is another example where it seemed like we had a shot to win and then it went away. We've usually had better cars here, and we got it pretty good through the middle of the race, but we couldn't keep up with the field late in the day. I'm very confused about the last 100 laps or so. It seemed liked we really had it rollin' but as the race went on, we kept getting tighter and tighter. I just couldn't drive it into the corners as hard as I would like - and certainly not as hard as a lot of the other guys. I'm sore from wrestling with that thing all day. There were times when it seemed to do something different every corner. One lap it would be tight... another it would be loose."
Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr. and the Bud team had as little chatter on the radio as any race in recent memory, primarily because much of the race had long green-flag segments, which limits the ability to have extended chats of any time.
Before the first pit stop on lap 37, Dale Jr. asks for moderation.
Dale Jr: "The car is tight from the center of the corner off... It's sliding the nose in the middle. But, go easy on me, man. Last week, we was flip floppin' too far on our changes. Let's stay small."
Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "10-4. We're making a small air pressure adjustment."
The car was strong early, but the handling slowly deteriorated until a pit stop under a lap 142 yellow flag.
Dale Jr: "What did you do there? It was really loose at the start of the run, But it seems like we've lost overall grip on each stop. I couldn't go hard into the corners. The harder I pushed, the more it would push up in the center. I'd have to go in real slow, because if I didn't, it would hit hard like it was landing on something."
After the ensuing green flag, Dale Jr. again climbed into the top-five: Eury Jr: "Your lap times have changed. You're doin' good. Just stay with that."
Dale Jr: "Whatever you did helped greatly... You did a good job there, Bud. This thing's pretty decent."
Eury Jr: "10-4. Doin' good on the lap times."
Dale Jr. (looking for his friend Tony Stewart on the track): "Where's the 20 (Stewart)?"
Eury Jr: "He's a few spots behind you..."
Dale Jr. "I thought he had been runnin' up front all day."
Steve Hmiel (spotter) "Actually, he had been. But they didn't do too good on that last stop."