Daytona Duels: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Dale Jr. 3rd in Daytona Qualifying Race, Will Start 7th on Sunday Elliott Sadler Wins First of Two Qualifying Races Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the ...

Dale Jr. 3rd in Daytona Qualifying Race, Will Start 7th on Sunday
Elliott Sadler Wins First of Two Qualifying Races

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team will start Sunday's Daytona 500 in seventh position after racing to a third-place finish in Thursday's rain-delayed, 150-mile qualifying race. It is Dale Jr.'s second top-3 finish this week, as he finshed second in the Budweiser Shootout Sunday night. His average finish in seven Daytona qualifying races is now 1.7, having never finished worse than fourth. Elliott Sadler led 36 of 62 laps en route to the win, while Carl Edwards finished second. Jeff Gordon won the second qualifying race on Thursday, beating teammate Kyle Busch. Gordon will join Bud Pole Award winner Jeff Burton on the front row for Sunday's race.

Key Moments: Starting in the last row due to an early-morning engine change, Dale Jr. carved his way from 28th to 10th in 16 laps but was forced to nurse the car through the corners because of a severe tight condition. Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. called for drastic adjustments on each of the team's two pit stops while putting on fresh Goodyear tires each time. (Tires were an issue after the team discovered a blistered right-front tire during the first stop.) In 22nd on a lap-36 restart, Dale Jr. jumped 12 spots to 10th in only six circuits, then used drafting help from Jimmie Johnson to race his way to third. A caution flag on lap 58 (two laps from the scheduled finish) set the field for a green-white-checkered sprint. Junior temporarily got by Edwards and closed in on the bumper of Sadler on the white-flag lap, but the lack of momentum pushed him back to third at the stripe.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"We feel like we have a better race car than we showed today. I was just real tight, and Tony Jr. had to work on it to get it turning good. I certainly didn't fall to the back on purpose. He got it turning better, but we've got more work to do before Sunday. It was tight yesterday in practice and was tight again today. I pretty much had to lift to keep from hitting the wall. We'll talk about it more tomorrow in practice and get it all worked out."

On the calmer temperament of the drivers in this race as opposed to last Sunday's Budweiser Shootout:

"Yeah, I knew it would be (calmer). I mean, that Budweiser Shootout is a different deal. I don't know why everybody was so surprised and making a big deal about it. We don't race like idiots all the time; just when you put up a couple hundred grand up for grabs and make it a quick one. This was a typical qualifying race -- a lot calmer, a lot more relaxed. That's the way it's always been. No big deal."

On his chances to win the Daytona 500:

"I still think we've got a real good car, and it will be one of the cars to beat if we can get it to turn better. It runs great. I know everybody wanted us to go out there today and get up front and show if we're dominant or not, but we've got a great car and a great chance on Sunday. Today we made a run at it. I think we had enough race car to get to Elliott but not enough time. I feel like Jimmie (Johnson) would've helped us out, but we just didn't have enough laps, and I still was a little tight at the end. But I'm happy with the finish. We'll start somewhere near the front on Sunday and see what we can do."

Best Radio Chatter:

Dale Jr. looked for ways to kill time while waiting out a 45-minute rain delay inside his race car:

Dale Jr.: "Do I got any other drivers on my radio?"

Martin Truex Jr. (driver of #1 Chevrolet): "You got me, Earnhardt?"

Dale Jr.: "Hell yeah, Paul (Menard) is comin' over (on the radio), too."

Martin Jr.: "Yeah, I'm bored."

Dale Jr.: "They say it's raining in (turn) 3."

Martin Jr. (referring to the tight condition both drivers experienced in practice Wednesday): "They got your (stuff) turning?"

Dale Jr.: "Hope so. I was plowin' hard yesterday."

Paul Menard (driver of the #15 Chevy): "What's up. You got a copy?"

Dale Jr.: "Hey Paul, what's up. It's me and Martin Truex."

Martin Jr.: "Hey there Minnerd (pronouncing it 'Leonard')".

***

Dale Jr. joked with his spotter after the command to start the engines:

Dale Jr.: "Hey Steve."

Steve Hmiel (spotter): "Yeah man."

Dale Jr.: "I hope you've made me more friends today than you did in the Budweiser Shootout."

Hmeil: "Did we have problems in the Shootout?"

Dale Jr. (jokingly): "I know your up there pissin' everybody off. Heh heh."

Hmiel: "Yeah, we did have a lot of people dumping us yesterday in practice."

Dale Jr.: "Well, I've got time to make friends, 'cause I'm starting in the back."

Hmiel: "Yep, you got the field in site!"

***

By the time the third caution flew on lap 58, Dale Jr. had raced from 22nd to third, and was in position for a green-white-checkered sprint:

Dale Jr.: "Alright, my car pushes like a truck, man. I'm going to try my best. I've just been holding my position and taking what they give me. I haven't really been trying to take a lot. It just pushes. It's better than it was, obviously, or we wouldn't be up here."

Tony Jr.: "Ten-four. We know we've got some work to do, but you've done a helluva job getting where you are."

Dale Jr.: I made a couple decent decisions, but a lot of it has just been luck, too. It's a good car, but we've got a long way to go to get great."

***

With the green about to wave and the Bud Chevy in third place, Junior began sizing up his chances for the win:

Dale Jr.: "You want me to go for it, Junior?"

The Bud Crew (off radio): "Hell yeah!"

Tony Jr.: "You do whatever you want to do."

Dale Jr.: "I was just thinking if I go to the outside of that 99, he's not going to give me the bottom on the restart. The 17 is going to go with him, so it could be a bad, bad deal. But I wanna win."

Tony Jr.: "Hey, I'm happy with what you've done all day. You've impressed the (crap) out of me today."

Hmiel: "The 17 is behind you, and the 2 is behind him. I'm standing in between both their spotters."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, both of those guys will go with the 99. (Pause). Screw it, I'm going for it."

-dei-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Martin Truex Jr. , Paul Menard , Carl Edwards , Elliott Sadler , Tony Eury Jr. , Kyle Busch