Matt Kenseth Wins Again, Dale Jr. Third
Bud Team Uses Brilliant Pit Stops to Lead 35 Laps
Matt Kenseth won for the second week in a row in the Nextel Cup Series, taking Saturday night's Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch was second while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team finished third. Kenseth also won last night's Busch Series race, making him the second driver to complete a weekend sweep at Bristol, joining Dale Jr., who was the first to do so in 2004. The Bud team, despite starting 40th, used a fast car, strong strategy and brilliant pit stops to lead 35 laps and climb to ninth in the Nextel Cup point standings. With two races before the Chase for the Cup, Dale Jr. is now only 19 points behind sixth place and 92 points ahead of 11th place. In 12 starts at Bristol, Dale Jr. now has five top-five finishes, seven top-10s and has led a total of 742 laps. In six pit stops, the Bud pit crew had five stops of less than 13 seconds, and gained a total of 15 positions during the stops.
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 40th, used patience and a methodical approach early in the race, climbing to the top-25 by lap 65, then climbing further into the top-15 before opting not to pit on lap 118, which put the Bud car into the lead for the first time. Running on older tires, the Bud team maintained a spot in the top-10, then climbed back into the lead with several additional blazing pit stops. Dale Jr. led the race until lap 400, when he slid wide and Matt Kenseth took the lead for good. Dale Jr. ran second until Kyle Busch was able to slide past on lap 488, giving the Bud team their fourth top-three tally of the season.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"I love driving these cars. My guys worked hard - the whole company, everybody at DEI worked hard. We weren't very good Friday and these guys buckled down and worked hard when it was hot as hell and gave me a great car with a good motor. We started so far back we needed to be fast but we also needed to make good pit calls, so I give credit to (crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. And my pit crew was awesome all night - every stop was great and we gained each time we made a stop. They had a helluva night all night. That's a career night for those boys. When you start at the back, you have to make decisions early to gain the track position, so we stayed out when a lot of other guys stopped. We eventually dropped back, but the guys gave me a great pit stop and we gained those spots back. Tony Jr. has been tweaking this pit crew all year, just like you'd tweak on a race car, and they've been practicing hard and this is good for my confidence heading toward the Chase.
"It was an uneventful night for me - other than trying to miss Elliott (Sadler) when he hit the wall. I was just trying to keep a little gap between me and the guys behind me and keep a little gap on the car in front of me. At the end, Matt (Kenseth) was just awesome. He was faster, and Kyle (Busch) was even faster, so I let him go. We wanted to maintain our position all night and move up when we could.
"This track is sooo mentally tough. You try not to spin out the guy in front of you and you try not to get spun out from behind. You just get moody all week, worrying about something breaking or something blowing out. So, it's a relief to have a good run and head to the house."
Best Radio Chatter:
With so much action on the short, high-banked half-mile oval, chatter is kept to a minimum, so the traffic on the radio didn't pick up until the final section of the race. The team made a pit stop while in third place on lap 382, and it turned out to be the quickest of the night (12.26 seconds), sending the Bud car back onto the track in the lead.
Tony Eury Jr (crew chief): "Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go hard! (sees the 8 car leaving in front of the 17 car) That's my boys right there! Game on!"
Steve Hmiel (spotter): "Check that out Tony Jr!"
Tony Jr: "Good job. Pat yourselves on the back."
Dale Jr.: "Great job. It's been a long time since we've gained so many spots on pit lane. It's a good deal here."
The closest call of the night for the No. 8 car came on lap 446 when Elliott Sadler spun out, then bounced off the wall in front of the Bud car, causing Dale Jr. to go onto the apron to avoid the 19 car.
Hmiel: "Slow down, June! Slow down! Go low! Way way down! Good job! Whooo hooo!"
Dale Jr: "The car was starting to get better, but it took too long to come in. We woulda been the fastest car on the track in 10 more laps or so..."