Budweiser Team Strong Early, Falls Late
Dale Jr. Leads Early, But Poor Timing Drops Team to 20th
Ricky Rudd grabbed his first Winston Cup victory since September of 1998 as he led the final 24 laps of the Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway. Rudd finished ahead of point leader Jeff Gordon and his Robert Yates Racing teammate Dale Jarrett at the finish. The only other team capable of running the same pace as the top three was Dale Earnhardt Jr.and the No. 8 Budweiser crew, but several poorly timed yellow flags dropped them back into the field. Dale Jr. ran easily among the top four for much of the race, leading 11 laps, but finished 20th after making a late race pit stop for a splash of fuel.
The Key Moment: After setting a blistering pace early, and trading positions at the front with Rudd, Gordon and Jarrett, Dale Jr. made a pit stop for tires and fuel on lap 155 while the field was at full speed. Only two laps after the stop, the caution flag flew for debris on the track and the rest of the leaders were able to pit under the yellow flag. This put the team at the back of the lead lap, where they fought to remain for much of the rest of the afternoon. The team was forced to make a pit stop for a splash of fuel on lap 186, which dropped them one lap behind the leaders.
Dale Jr's Quotes: "I am frustrated that the finishing position doesn't show how kick-ass that car was today. It makes me feel so good to see how well the team is improving each week. We struggled so much last year at this track, and then we showed up this weekend and were easily among the best cars in every session. We could really race with the guys who finished first, second and third - with a break or two we would have been there with them at the finish."
Best Team Radio Chatter of the Day
After leading easily during the early stages of the race: Dale Jr: "Alright, we know what this car is capable of, so let's just chill out now and just hang with these boys. Let's keep the leaders in sight until the end. The car is great -- really good. But hang on, because I'm sure I'll think of something to start bitching about sometime soon!"
After a multi-car wreck on lap 53:
Dale Jr: "Guys, I'm pretty surprised how well we've run so far this weekend. We sucked here last year."
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "10-4. We learn something everyday and we just get better each time we come back."
After a pit-lane incident when Brett Bodine in the No. 11 car ran into the side of the Budweiser machine:
Tony Jr: "The car doesn't look too bad from that deal with the 11 car. Just some marks on the left side."
Dale Jr (protesting): "I didn't touch the 11 car!"
Tony Jr: "Yeah. He ran into ya on pit lane. You got white streaks all down your door."
Dale Jr: "I'm damn glad I can't see 'em!"
The team made a pit stop on lap 155, only to see the yellow flag come out on lap 157 while they were behind leader Dale Jarrett, who had yet to make his pit stop. As the leader, Jarrett could have followed what NASCAR calls "the gentleman's agreement" and allowed Dale Jr. to regain the lead lap. Jarrett, aware of the torrid pace of the No. 8 car, chose not to.
Ty Norris (team spotter): "Go hard! You did not take the yellow flag. Jarrett's spotter says he'll back off."
Dale Jr. (increasingly frantic as he sees he cannot catch Jarrett in time) "He's not backing off enough! Tell 'em PLEASE back-off!"
Ty: "I'm talking to his spotter right here."
Tony Eury Sr (crew chief) "He ain't backin' off!"
Dale Jr: "Damn." (or something considerably stronger.)
Tony Jr: "I wouldn't have let us back on the lead lap! Why should he? We out ran him on all of the earlier re-starts."
Tony Sr: "Just stay out there. He still has to pit. You'll either be at the tail end of the lead lap or the first car one lap down - There's 40 laps left, maybe he needs a wheel mark on the side of that car!"
Dale Jr: "I already got him. Don't worry about it. I gave him a good wheel mark (after taking the yellow flag). I'm going to be right here -- lead lap or one down -- I'll be right here. He'll have to deal with us one way or another. .."
Tony Jr: "There's 40 to go, it ain't over yet."
Dale Jr: "I KNOW it ain't over! But we have too good of a car to be in this position."
Tony Sr: "Let's get serious now. No more talk -- let's just see how good we can do in these last laps."
Dale Jr. was able to hold off Jarrett, Rudd and Gordon (who were battling for the lead) for nearly 15 laps before again falling one lap behind.
Dale Jr. (after the race): "If he (Jarrett) would have let me go, he would have had clear sailing. We're even. It's all forgotten now."