Bristol II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Kenseth Dominates at Bristol, Bud Team Scores Top-10 Dale Jr. Finishes 9th Despite Starting in the Rear Bud Pole Award winner Matt Kenseth dealt a severe whipping to his Nextel Cup competitors Saturday night, leading 415 of 500 laps to win the...

Kenseth Dominates at Bristol, Bud Team Scores Top-10
Dale Jr. Finishes 9th Despite Starting in the Rear

Bud Pole Award winner Matt Kenseth dealt a severe whipping to his Nextel Cup competitors Saturday night, leading 415 of 500 laps to win the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, his first victory of the season.JKenseth took his ninth and final lead 72 laps from the finish and pulled away from runner-up Jeff Burton on a green-white-checkered finish. Greg Biffle finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team started in the rear due to a fuel-pressure gauge change and passed more cars than any other team Saturday night to score a ninth-place finish.JIt is the Bud team's 10th top-10 of the season and third straight at Bristol. As a result, Junior improves one spot to 15th in the point standings and is now 117 points out of 10th with two races to go before the Chase for the Championship.

Key Moments: Despite two wrecks, three "lucky dog" awards, and a last-row starting position, Dale Jr. still found himself knocking on the door of a top-10 with 100 laps to go Saturday night. His ride was anything but ordinary, as he was stalked -- and lapped -- by Kenseth three times in the first 172 laps, only to benefit from immediate cautions and subsequent "beneficiary" passes each time. His involvement in two accidents (on laps 92 and 317) produced only minor damage to the Bud Chevy, and it continued to respond well to continuous chassis adjustments made by crew chief Steve Hmiel. No longer threatened by the leaders, Dale Jr. gradually began his ascent, cracking the top-20 by lap 237 and climbing to 13th by lap 417. A quick, 13.07-second stop by the Brew Crew with 80 laps remaining put Junior in the top-10 for the first time all night, and he responded by fighting off a barrage of attacks by cars on newer tires to finish to secure a ninth-place finish.

Dale Jr. Quotes: "Man, that was fun! I know a lot of people are probably wondering how we got a top-10 out of this, but this ol' Budweiser Chevrolet was fast tonight, and we passed a lot of cars to get that top-10. Starting so far in the back (41st) hurt us, because we had a lot of traffic to deal with. Matt (Kenseth) was stalking me for a long time, but we were lucky enough to catch cautions and get the lucky dog and stay on the lead lap every time. Great pit stops all night... I can't say enough about the guys on this team. I'm proud of them. They work hard to give me a good car, and all I can do is drive the hell out of it."

On fighting for a top-10 in the closing laps: "It was real hard to pass, and I knew when we stayed out (during the 15th caution with 28 laps to go) it was going to be hard to hold off those guys with new tires. I was kind of (upset) at myself for staying out. We were in ninth at the time, and I knew those guys behind us were going to get tires. But track position is really important here. I stayed out because I didn't want to give up our track position. We were able to hold on for the top-10, so I'm happy about that."

On overcoming two accidents during the course of the race to finish ninth: "So much happened tonight I barely remember (the two incidents).JThere were people bouncing all over each other out there. I know the first one I ran into somebody when everyone was checking up from the wreck ahead of us. I don't know, I might've got hit, too... not real sure. The second was kind of the same deal. We were lucky to get no real damage other than flat-spotting the tires. Our incidents were minor compared to some of the stuff I saw out there."

On the points chase: "Not even worried about it. I'm having fun driving these race cars, and that's all I think about. We dug ourselves a pretty big hole (in the points), so I'm just going to keep driving and have a helluva good time doing it."

Best Radio Chatter: Dale Jr. fell a lap to the leaders three separate times during the first 172 laps, but caught timely cautions that kept him on the lead lap. His good fortunes became the running joke of the day for the Bud team, starting with the fifth caution on lap 173: Dale Jr.: "This is good racin'! I know we ain't where we want to be, but I'm having a good time."

Steve Hmiel (crew chief): "Yeah, I think you're gonna set the record for lucky dogs."

Dale Jr.: "Hey, they made the damn rule!"

Having endured the threats of Kenseth and avoided the carnage left from multiple accidents, Dale Jr. began a steady climb up the leaderboard.

Dale Jr.: "Am I in the top-10?"

Hmiel: "You're showing in 22nd."

Dale Jr.: "Alright then, that's good." Hmiel.: "Doing a great job out there."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, it's pretty easy when you keep a positive attitude. It's still hard to get the car to turn. Just no grip in the front."

Hmiel: "Ain't nobody passing nobody out there, June."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, I was trying to figure out how to get my car to do just that."

During the 10th caution, lap 255, Junior had made it as high as 19th:

Dale Jr.: "Am I in the top-10 yet?"

Hmiel: "22nd."

Dale Jr.: "Daammmmitt! Well, a bunch of people stayed out there. At least I'm not in danger of the ever-embarrassing lucky dog."

Hmiel: "However, it's been an ever-affective lucky dog tonight."

Dale Jr.: "Yeeeessssir! Just like Christmas."

Hmiel: "And you don't even have to unwrap the wrapping paper."

Junior had climbed as high as 13th, but his attempt to avoid the wrecking cars of Ryan Newman and Dale Jarrett on lap 317 knocked him back yet again:

Jimmy Kitchens (spotter): "That looked like payback from the pervious caution."

Dale Jr. (laughing): "Yeah, ol' D.J., he's got a temper, let me tell ya!" Following the pit stop:

Dale Jr.: "OK, I'm gonna take a guess, I'm in 22nd."

Hmiel: "Right on. You had got up to 13th there for awhile."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, there's a lot of (stuff) going on. Been crazy. Still a lot of fun though."

Finally reaching the top-10 after a quick pit stop on lap 419:

Dale Jr.: "Tenth! Aaaaah-haaaaaaaaaa! That's right!"

Today's Stats Started: 41st Finished: 9th (10th top-10 of 2005) Led: -- Points: 15th (+1 spot / 117 points out of 10th) Best Pit Stop: Stop 13 of 13 / lap 419 / 13.07 seconds / 4 tires and fuel

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Greg Biffle , Ryan Newman , Jimmy Kitchens