Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Budweiser Team Finishes 8th in Daytona 500, Leads Most Laps Jimmie Johnson wins in wild finish Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the ...

Budweiser Team Finishes 8th in Daytona 500, Leads Most Laps
Jimmie Johnson wins in wild finish

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team led a race-high 32 laps, but it was Jimmie Johnson who held off an onslaught of pursuers in a green-white-checkered finish to win the 48th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Casey Mears finished second and Ryan Newman third. Dale Jr. was scored as the eighth-place finisher, falling victim to a caution flag that froze the field right as he was passing three cars on the final lap. The eighth-place finish was Dale Jr.'s sixth straight top-10 at Daytona, and by receiving 10 bonus points for leading the most laps, he starts the new season sixth in the Nextel Cup point standings.

Key Moments: With several top contenders struggling to keep their fenders clean early, Dale Jr. raced calmly and cleanly in the top-10 through the first half of the race. He even led 24 of the first 100 laps, benefiting from a fast race car and equally fast pit stops that accounted for 24 gained positions on the day. It set the stage for an exciting ending, to which Dale Jr. traded leads with Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers, all of whom had teammates lending drafting help. Sixteen laps from the finish, Dale Jr. was dumped from the lead pack and sent spiraling from eighth to 21st. He quickly rebounded, gaining eight spots in the next two laps, and then using a major push from Clint Bowyer and Elliott Sadler to climb to fourth with five laps remaining.

A late caution set up a green-white-checkered finish, to which Junior tried to make a move on the outside in a bid for his second Daytona 500 title, but he was unable to gain ground.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"Great job by the Bud guys getting me in and out of the pits all day... just awesome pit stops. We had a great race car, built by all the technology and resources at DEI. I'm just real proud of the effort they brought down here. It was a pleasure driving the Busch car and Cup car all weekend. Good Speedweeks. I think we had a good race today. I think it was exciting for the fans, and I look forward to California."

On leading a race-high 32 laps:

"We've been fighting a push in the car the whole time down we've been down here, but we were able to work on it, and it was pretty good when we got it out front. At the end we just didn't have enough to get back up there, but it was fun leading laps and getting that Budweiser Chevy out front."

On his decision to make a move on the final lap:

"I was in fifth place, and I knew nobody would go with me on the outside, but it was the only chance we had to win, so I decided to go for it. I'm not here to run fifth or eighth or whatever we finished. I can live with myself knowing I at least tried to win rather than stay in line. On the last lap I went to the outside of the 38, but I had to back up when I got a real bad push off (turn) two. I pretty much ruined Kasey Kahne's run that he had, and we were just kind of stuck. Then I don't know what happened on the front straightaway, we passed a bunch of cars while they were beating on each other. They ruled me eighth, so I'll take it and go to California."

On ending Speedweeks with three top-10 finishes in three Cup races (Budweiser Shootout, Twin-150, and Daytona 500)

"I'm just proud of my team. They gave me a good car. We came down here and ran great. That's what we wanted to do. I'm real proud of everybody back at the shop, and all my guys down here that have been working on this car all week, it's been a long week. We're real happy to come out of here with a top-10. A lot of guys weren't so fortunate."

On bump-drafting:

"No different than it's always been. Sometimes it's a little rough, but it doesn't bother me too bad. You hold the wheel straight, and you usually keep control of it when they push you. It was no different than what I'm used to or what I'm accustomed to since I've been driving in the Cup Series. There is always little tiffs drivers have between each other, but I didn't see anything I didn't expect... It was a lot of fun. I was a little nervous about how rough the race might get at the end, but we're out there with a bunch of professionals. There was some beating and banging going on, but it was a pretty clean race. Cars don't drive around the race track like they should. A lot of guys lose grip on this old track. I'd like to see them pave it. It would be nice if they would think about paving it, because it would make for better racing."

Best Radio Chatter:

A nagging mist and a thick fog overcame the speedway early in the race, making it difficult see much of the action on the race track:

Steve Hmiel (spotter): "You know those Sunday mornings in Pocono when they say it's too foggy to race? Well it's every bit as foggy right now."

Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "Oh, I can believe it. I got a little nervous when they came back through the tri-oval that one time."

Dale Jr: "Not on this race track, as wore out as it is. I think it can be soaking wet, and we can still run wide open around it."

Hmiel: "It's like you're in a fog bank over there on the backstretch. It's really weird."

Tony Jr.: "It can't be good for television because when they show it on the screens, it's got water mist all over the lens."

Dale Jr.: "It's not foggy everywhere I go.."

Hmeil: "Or maybe it's foggy all the time, right June?"

Dale Jr.: "Ha! Maybe so. (pause). What happened to the 24 car?"

Tony Eury Sr.: "Transmission problems."

Hmiel: "When we were pushing real bad just before the previous caution, he got run into the fence off of turn two."

Dale Jr.: "It looks like he has lots of damage. I just like to know what the competition is going to look like in the end."

***

As Dale Jr. took his first lead of the season on lap 27:

Hmiel: "Clear all around, June. There you go.. five points toward your championship."

***

As Dale Jr. re-took the lead with a superb move past the leader:

Hmiel: "Clear! Wow, another one for the highlight film, boys!"

***

The fifth caution of the race involved Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart, two of the dominant drivers in this Daytona 500:

Dale Jr: "Did Matt just crash?"

Hmiel: "Sure did."

Dale Jr.: "He hit something on the back straightaway?"

Hmiel: "Nah, I think they were just racing, and he got down on the flats."

Dale Jr. (impatiently): "No, I saw what happened in front of me. I'm asking if he just went spinning through the grass, or is competitive still."

Hmiel: "No, he hit the outside wall, Dale Jr."

Dale Jr.: "Man, I tell ya, that was something!   They need to show my in-car
(camera).   I got it all.   And he's gonna be after Tony! (laughing)."

Hmiel: "You could kind of see it coming, couldn't you?"

Dale Jr.: "I thought they were going to wreck before then. Tony did make it through the middle, and I thought we were good, and Matt tried to get behind Tony, and I was going to let him in instead of going to the outside. They kind of hit each other. Really nobody's fault. Tony was coming down, Matt was coming up, they weren't clear."

***

After the Bud pit crew put Junior in the lead for the third time:

Dale Jr.: "Good work, guys!

Hmiel (relaying NASCAR's official scoring): "The 8 in front of the 48. You got a helluva pit crew."

Dale Jr.: "You said it!"

Hmiel (monitoring other teams' radio channels): "Rick Hendrick just told his guys if these had all been green flag pit stops, the 8 would have a lap on the field."

***

With a green-white-checkered sprint looming and Dale Jr. in fifth place, the team deliberated on strategy:

Dale Jr.: "The top (line) ain't worth a damn, but it's the only way you're going to win."

Hmiel: "Yeah, I know."

Dale Jr.: "I'm doing everything I can do. I'm just scared to go up there and lose all these spots. Your pit stops have been so good all day long, I hate to not get the finish it deserves. I want to go up there, but I'm afraid I 'm going to lose a lot of spots up there."

Tony Jr.: "Do whatever you got to do, bud.   Don't worry about that.   Do
the best you can do.   You know more about what's going on there than we do."

Hmiel: "Ain't nobody gonna cuss a man for trying, right Tony Jr.?"

Tony Jr.: "Nope, never have. When you try, that's a plus. That's extra credit."

Dale Jr.: "I was trying. Ol' thing is pushing and everything else. This motor is like an old man. It'll wake up, run for awhile, and fall back asleep. (Long pause). I wish I knew what I had behind me, because I'm going to get a run on all these guys. We'll be single file on the restart, and they'll train me or three-wide me, or some crazy stuff."

Hmiel: "Yeah, nobody's been really friendly.   But we're in good shape. You'
re doing a heckuva job man.   Do what you're instincts tell you to do... Put
the fear of disappointing anybody out of your mind and go for it.   We'll carry
you wherever you need to go.   There's a good group of guys behind you."

Dale Jr.: "OK, I'm going for it."

-dei-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Brian Vickers , Clint Bowyer , Elliott Sadler , Tony Eury Jr. , Mark Martin