Chicagoland: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Stewart Wins at Chicago, Dale Jr. 19th Bud Team Drops from Third Place With Power Steering Failure Tony Stewart earned his first victory of the season Sunday, winning the USG 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL. Stewart led the most...

Stewart Wins at Chicago, Dale Jr. 19th
Bud Team Drops from Third Place With Power Steering Failure

Tony Stewart earned his first victory of the season Sunday, winning the USG 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL. Stewart led the most laps and topped second place Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards across the finish line. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team had a superb race - for the first 210 of the 267 laps. While the No. 8 car was running in third place, a power steering pump failed - which initially locked and then hampered the steering on the Bud machine for the final 57 laps. The steering issues dropped Dale Jr. to the end of the lead lap cars, finishing the day in the 19th position. The rough ending didn't mean a drop in the point standings, as Dale Jr. remains in 12th place following 19 races in 2007.

Key Moments:

Dale Jr., starting 5th (a career-best at Chicago and sixth top-10 start in the last 10 races), ran in the top-10 before taking the lead on lap 50, but dropped back to 13th place after missing the entrance to pit lane on the following lap. The next yellow flag saw the Bud team use a two-tire strategy to gain track position - and a trend began to develop. On new tires, the Bud car was slippery and rough handling, but on extended green flag runs, the car would eventually maintain very quick lap times while the remainder of the field would slow. This cycle repeated itself several times as the Bud car would drop several positions, and then eventually fight back into the top five or six positions. Dale Jr. recorded the fastest lap of any competitor on 18 percent of the total laps - mostly late in long green flag segments. A blazing pit stop on lap 203 earned the Bud car three positions, and Dale Jr. restarted in third place on lap 207. It was soon after - as he battled for second place - that the power steering pump seized, which snapped the power steering belt, rendering the No. 8 machine much less lithe and maneuverable. For the final 50-some laps, Dale Jr. used all of his strength to avoid crashing and manhandled the car home for a 19th place finish on the lead lap.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

About the power steering failure: "Whatever my future holds, I promise you it doesn't involve being an axe-slinger. Man, it was crazy, but I tried to have fun with it. I'd never had a power steering failure so it was a new experience for me. My dad won at Bristol once without power steering and now I understand a little bit better what that must have been like. Man, I couldn't have done it like he did! It's like you trying to push that truck (points toward the team's 18-wheel hauler). No way. It was a mess but I just tried to do the best I could. It happened all of a sudden. I was haulin' along, trying to figure out how I was going to get around the 48 car (Jimmie Johnson) and then the steering just locked up. I had no idea what it was - so I slowed way down and found out it was the power steering. The rest of the day, I was just trying to stay ahead of as many cars as I could without pissing off half of the field. I could muscle it into the corners, but if I had needed to make a sudden move or if I had to avoid a crash in front of me, I wouldn't have been able to do it.

"We were able to hang on to the lead lap, but it's disappointing to have a finish like 19th when we had a great car and great pit stops all day. We would start off really struggling with new tires, but after 15 laps or so, we would just light it up and take off on the high side. The longer we ran, the better we got. I felt like I could pass anybody, but we'd drop back too far after a pit stop to be able to make up that distance each long run. I don't think we had a winning car, but we had a top-three or a top-five car all day. I had all I could want: a fast car and team that was gaining spots for me on pit lane. That last stop, we came in sixth and left pit lane in third place. Now, that's my guys really getting it done for me! I'm proud of all of them.

About having the final weekend off of the season this week: "I'm gonna forget about this race as soon as I'm home, sitting on the porch and having a cold Bud. We all need to recharge our batteries and get ready for the rest of the season, but I'm not gonna worry about anything and clear my head. I'm confident we'll be strong the rest of the year. We've been fast every week and - I keep saying it - but when we stop having all of these bad breaks we'll be right in the mix. I mean - how many races have we run and never once had that sort of failure with the steering?! It's a freak deal, and it's an indication of how the season has gone. We're still 12th in points, and we're still working and fighting for it as hard as any other team out there."

Best Radio Chatter:

Dale Jr. struggled early in each run following a pit stop, but once the tires came to the proper temperatures and pressures, the Bud car was a rocket in the high lane, often slinging around other cars while only inches from the wall - or less.

Dale Jr. (on lap 105, after repeatedly 'brushing' a segment of the wall at the exit of turn four): "STUPID WALL!"

Steve Hmiel (spotter): "I've seen that. You're doin' good June. You've gained two seconds on the leader the last 20 laps."

Dale Jr: "That damn wall (off of turn four) sticks out there like a knot! It's (freakin') stupid!"

Hmiel (reassuring the crew) : "No damage to the car, Tony Jr."

***

Lap 148, and seemingly out of nowhere:

Dale Jr: "Sometimes I think about it and I can't believe I'm a race car driver..."

***

Lap 185, and a potential problem developed...

Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "Just so you're aware, you have a small piece of paper on the top grill. See if you can use the 07 car (Clint Bowyer) to help that." (A driver can pull close behind another car, and the change in air pressure will blow the paper off before the car overheats.)

Dale Jr: "If I get to him..."

Tony Jr: "You'll get to him eventually. At your convenience."

Dale Jr: "Where is it?"

Tony Jr: "It's in the upper right hand corner."

***

After a few laps and a close call with Bowyer...

Dale Jr: (to his spotter) "Damn! You might wanna tell him what I want to do! DAMN!"

Hmiel: "We're talking to him. He's ready for it."

Dale Jr: "I don't think I can get it off there..."

Eury Jr: "You got it. It's gone. Now, GO!"

Dale Jr: "It's gone?"

Eury Jr: "Yes sir. You're good."

Dale Jr: "10-4. Tell him (Bowyer) thanks! The temperature was at 250 (degrees) and it's already down to 245..."

***

The team had one of their best pit stops of the season on lap 203, pulling Dale Jr. from sixth place to third. Unfortunately, while fighting to gain second place on lap 210, the power steering pump locked up, and Dale Jr. dropped six spots in one lap, and eventually fell to the final spot on the lead lap.

Dale Jr: "LOST THE POWER STEERING! Sorry about that!"

Eury Jr: "It's alright. 10-4. Do what you can."

Dale Jr: "It's pretty hard to drive it!"

Eury Jr: "Drive in your high line - that'll be a little easier on you... Just put them guns of yours up on the steering wheel and get on with it!"

Dale Jr: (laughing) "I'll try to go where ya want me to go. I've never driven a car like this! This is funny!"

***

Under a lengthy yellow flag period that began on lap 223...

Dale Jr: "Sorry. No power steering. The steering wheel just locked up. I had to slow down. It's hard getting into the corners, but I thought it would be harder... but I feel like I'm slingin' a ten-pound hammer everytime I turn down in. I never "

Eury Jr: "It's cool. We ain't never had that happen. Do what you can do."

Dale Jr: "It's OK. I ain't never driven one like this... I'm about to take the gloves off, but this (stuff's) about to get serious."

Eury Jr: (teasing) "The boys say they wanna see those forearms when ya get out of the car."

Dale Jr: (laughing) "If I was Ryan Newman I'd be able to drive the (stuff) out of it! I was OK, wasn't I?... I'll do the best I can. But it might be the ugliest (stuff) you've ever seen."

Eury Jr: "10-4. Do whatcha can do."

Dale Jr. (looking for his teammate Martin Truex Jr.) "Where's Martin?"

Eury Jr: "He blew up..."

Dale Jr: 'Why didn't you tell me?!"

Hmiel: "We figured - both literally and figuratively - that you had your hands full."

Dale Jr: "Ah! 10-4..."

-credit: dei

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , Tony Eury Jr.