Atlanta II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Budweiser Team Dominates Early, Finishes Strong Edwards wins despite Junior's 142 laps led Carl Edwards completed a season sweep of races at Atlanta Motor Speedway by winning Sunday's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500, his third victory of the season.

Budweiser Team Dominates Early, Finishes Strong
Edwards wins despite Junior's 142 laps led

Carl Edwards completed a season sweep of races at Atlanta Motor Speedway by winning Sunday's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500, his third victory of the season. Edwards didn't lead the most laps -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. took that honor -- but he held the point for most of the final 100 and stretched his advantage to nearly three seconds over runner-up Jeff Gordon when the checkered flag waved. Dale Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team dominated the first half of Sunday's event, leading a total of 142 laps before earning their seventh top-five of the season with a fourth-place effort. It is Dale Jr.'s best finish since winning at Chicago on July 9. His 142 laps led were by far a season-high, as he entered the weekend having led only 25 in 2005. With the effort, Dale Jr. improved one spot to 19th in the Nextel Cup point standings.

Key Moments:

Starting 17th, the muscle of the Budweiser Chevrolet was evident from the drop of the green flag, as it took Dale Jr. only 16 laps to climb into the top-five, 24 laps to reach second, and 54 laps to take the lead. Junior held the point for 142 of the next 152 laps, slipping out of the top spot only during pit sequencing and, yes, to let his championship-contending buddy lead a lap and earn five bonus points (read chatter below). But as the track surface cooled with the setting sun, the handle of the dominant Bud Chevy became finicky. A tight condition overtook the car, and Dale Jr. slipped to second on lap 207, then to third on lap 211. The Brew Crew made chassis adjustments in each of the final five pit stops, and the consistently quick pit service kept Junior in the top-four for the rest of the afternoon. But it wasn't enough to retake the once solidly held lead. Junior, having driven his typical high line all day, ventured to lower grooves on the track in an attempt to catch Edwards. He fought his way to second on lap 296 (29 laps from the finish) with a pass of Matt Kenseth, but Jeff Gordon swept by three laps later to thwart any stabs at a late comeback.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

On a fourth-place finish, his first top-five in six races: "I've got to thank my team for such a great weekend. We had a great car. We had a great day on pit road with some fast stops. I really wanted to win this race, probably more than I've ever wanted to win a race. It's kind of disappointing not to win with such a great car. But it got a little tight there, and we chased it. We tried to get it turning good again, but we never got it driving as good as it had early in the race. Then it got real loose on me there at the end -- real loose -- and I couldn't run with them boys. I tried.JI did the best I could."

On what seems to be a trend for the Budweiser team to finish well at Atlanta: "With me and Tony (Eury) Jr. working together again, I mean, this was a track we always ran great at. He's the best guy at this track as a crew chief. We came here and tested, and we knew we'd have something to work with when we got here. His cars are fast, and it's a privilege to drive them.

"This is what we're after. This is the way you want it to be -- to show up at the track and run fast and compete for the win. Today we had a car that was great at the beginning, good at the end, and we ran in the top three or four all day. I'm just proud of my team. Can't wait to go to Texas next week."

Best Radio Chatter:

Driving what was by far the fastest car on the track in the early stages,

Dale Jr.'s quick lap times -- even when he was trying to save his equipment -- were good indication he was going to be a contender for the win.

Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "That was a 31.41. You're by far the fastest car out there."

Dale Jr.: "Well I ain't trying to be. I'm only running about 80 percent right now."

In first place with a comfortable lead, Dale Jr. decided to let second-place runner, Tony Stewart, lead a lap on the 58th circuit and earn five bonus points to help his bid for the Nextel Cup championship. Stewart led his lap, and then Junior retook the lead.

Tony Jr.: "I could've sworn that looked like two teammates working together out there."

Dale Jr.: "Ah, he's just my buddy."

Tony Jr.: "Very cool. Cool play."

During the fourth caution:

Dale Jr.: "How's my 'Skins doing?"

Tony Jr.: "Your tires or your (Washington) Redskins?"

Dale Jr.: "The Redskins."

Tony Jr.: "Hold on they're checking it for you."

Moments after learning the second-quarter score was New York Giants 13, Redskins 0:

Tony Jr. (to members of the Bud crew off-air): "Nah, I don't think I'm gonna tell him that. If he asks again, we'll tell him it's zero-zero."

Time flies when you're having fun. This during the ninth and final caution:

Jimmy Kitchens (spotter): "OK, we'll have 37 laps to go when we go back racing."

Dale Jr.: "Thirty-seven?! You sure?"

Kitchens: "Yeah, 37... ain't that correct Tony Jr.?"

Tony Jr.: "That is correct."

Dale Jr.: "Wow, alright. I'm gonna have to get after it!"

-dei-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Jimmy Kitchens , Carl Edwards , Tony Eury Jr.