Charlotte: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Eventful Night For Bud Team Results In 11th-Place Finish Kahne Wins Third Race Of the Season At Charlotte Kasey Kahne led a race-high 158 laps and held off three-time defending race winner Jimmie Johnson to win Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 ...

Eventful Night For Bud Team Results In 11th-Place Finish
Kahne Wins Third Race Of the Season At Charlotte

Kasey Kahne led a race-high 158 laps and held off three-time defending race winner Jimmie Johnson to win Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. It was Kahne's series-leading third victory of 2006, tying Johnson's season win total. Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team overcame a poor starting position (34th), a mid-race pit road penalty, and a lap-down deficit to finish 11th. Dale Jr. ran in the top-10 for much of the night and found himself in the top-five late in the race, but a pit stop for fuel sent Junior to an 11th-place finish. He remains in fifth place in the Nextel Cup point standings, 271 points behind leader Johnson and 40 points behind fourth-place Tony Stewart.

Key Moments: All the progress made from a 34th-to-5th opening run was snatched away when the Bud team was hit with two pit-road penalties during the ninth caution. Dale Jr. was relegated back to 37th position -- three spots worse than what he started -- and was stuck one lap down to the leaders. But like he had before, Junior made an impressive surge through the field, driving his way back onto the lead lap just past the halfway point, moving into the top-10 with 100 laps to go, and taking over fifth 39 laps from the finish. Junior was in fourth place when Jeff Gordon wrecked to bring out the 15th caution. The Bud team elected to pit on lap 364 of 400, as they were seven laps short of making it to the end on fuel (NASCAR mandated smaller fuel cells for this race to alleviate the tire-wear problems from last year). The pit stop gave the #8 car enough fuel for the duration but stuck Junior back in 12th place on a restart with 33 laps to go. The final green-flag run spread the field out, and Junior was able to pass only one car in the waning circuits.

Dale Jr. Quotes:
"We finished 11th, but our car was better than that. Between our qualifying effort (34th) and then the penalty we got for pitting outside the box (during the ninth caution on lap 163), I bet we passed more cars tonight than anybody out there. But it just didn't work out for us at the end. It's nobody's fault. (Crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. called an excellent race. We made so many pit stops today -- four-tire, two-tire, and no-tire stops -- and we felt confident that it was going to pay off for us. But it didn't. We were stuck having to make a pit stop for gas when most of the other guys didn't, and we had to give up a top-five so we could make it to the end. It's unfortunate, but it's the way it goes. I can sleep with that, because we made a lot of progress this week. This is the same car we brought here last weekend to the All-Star race, and it was horrible. Tony Jr. and the guys worked really hard this week, got it to where it would turn a lot better during the race, and we were able to run up front for the most part. It's something to build off of. We're still learning as we go, and so far I'm pretty happy."

Best Radio Chatter:

Starting 34th, Dale Jr. passed cars at a rapid pace, climbing all the way to fifth by lap 159.

Steve Hmiel (spotter): "Clear! Holy moly! Nice job!"

Dale Jr. (when the caution flew a few laps later): "I'm making the most quality passes today (referring to NASCAR's new 'Loop' stats category that counts passes of lead lap cars)."

Tony Jr.: "Yeah, you're doing a good job. Looking good out there."

Dale Jr.: "It's pretty easy with this hard-ass tire."

***

The Bud team was hit with a penalty when NASCAR ruled that the right-rear tire was on the line when pulling into the pitbox under the ninth caution. The penalty knocked Junior from fifth to 37th.

Dale Jr.: "What happened Junior?"

Tony Jr.: "They're working on it."

Dale Jr.: "Was I inside the box or what?"

Tony Jr.: "Yeah, your rear tire was on the line, they're saying."

Dale Jr.: "So what's the deal, do I have to go to the back? (Long pause). What happened, I'm confused, hell...

Tony Jr.: "Just come in and pit... We'll put four tires on it."

Dale Jr.: "Can we do that?"

Tony Jr.: "Yes. Just left-side tires. Two left side tires.

Dale Jr.: "Alright, no problem. Just make it cool. We have a good car. I made a mistake and I'm sorry. We were way out of the ballpark with the handling. We got that fixed, and now we can fix this."

Tony Jr.: "Yeah, ten-four. It's a little shady there. (The tire) was on the line, not in the other box. Just make sure you get it in deeper. I hollered on the radio. That probably screwed up everybody on the pit stop."

Dale Jr.: "My mistake, my fault."

Tony Jr.: "Nah, we ain't worried about it."

Dale Jr. emphasized the "go" in gas-and-go when the Bud team's gas-only pit stop on lap 249 was hastened when Dale Jr. accelerated with gas man Jeff Clark still pouring fuel into the cell:

Dale Jr.: (pulling off): "Did I get enough?"

Tony Jr. (laughing): "Yeah, that was a way to tell Clark to speed it up!"

Hmiel (heeding to Junior's earlier wish to feed him details of wrecks): "That caution there was for what's-his-name blowing a tire. I want to say Johnny Rumley, but it's not Johnny Rumley."

Dale Jr.: "No, it's not Johnny Rumley."

Hmiel: "Although Johnny Rumley probably ran somewhere last night. (Pause) Johnny Sauter! That's it."

***

The biggest wreck of the evening came on lap 313, and Junior had to take evasive action to avoid it. Fifth-place Casey Mears bounced off the wall and collected Kyle Busch and several other cars.

Dale Jr.: "OK, I don't know if I really ran over anything right there. Just do what you want to do."

Tony Jr.: "OK, ten-four." Dale Jr.: "Just let me know what you do. I'm not hearing the first couple things you say. Don't come on and just say four tires, because all I hear is 'tires.' "

Tony Jr.: "Just stay out."

Dale Jr.: "We were racing right there, huh? We were racing! We were ALL racing... racing like hell!"

-dei-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Johnny Sauter , Kasey Kahne , Carl Edwards , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , Johnny R