Daytona II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Dale Jr. Finishes Third at Daytona, Equals Best Finish of Season Stewart dominates to take Pepsi 400 win Daylong rain showers prolonged the Pepsi 400 into the early hours of the morning, but when it was finally over, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the...

Dale Jr. Finishes Third at Daytona, Equals Best Finish of Season
Stewart dominates to take Pepsi 400 win

Daylong rain showers prolonged the Pepsi 400 into the early hours of the morning, but when it was finally over, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team equaled their best showing of the year with a third-place finish at Daytona International Speedway. It was the Bud team's fourth top-five of the year and first in nine weeks. As good as it was, however, it was still no match for Tony Stewart, who led all but nine of the 160 laps to score a dominating victory. Jamie McMurray finished second. Dale Jr.'s third-place finish was his fourth consecutive finish of third or better at Daytona, this after starting 39th Saturday night. It bumped him up two spots to 16th in the point standings. He is now 106 points out of Chase contention (within 400 points of the leader) and 158 out of the top-10.

Key Moments: Dale Jr. came from the back of the pack twice the second time after sustaining minor damage in a multi-car accident on lap 35 and when he finally broke the top-10 on lap 88, he stayed there for most of the night. Junior made his biggest gain on a lap-115 restart when he drove the Bud car from ninth to second in 16 laps. The race's eighth and final caution set the stage for a nine-lap dash to the checkers. Junior, restarting fifth, used drafting help from an unlikely source, Rusty Wallace, and passed Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne to tie his season-best finish.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"Yeah, we had a pretty good car. The race track was real, real tight with all the rain, and we were working on the car to improve and it got a lot better as we went. The track got even better once we got some rubber on it. You know, at the start of the race the top was the place to be because the bottom was real tight and you'd have to lift for everyone on the outside row, so you couldn't get anything going. And as everybody adjusted their cars and the track improved, the bottom was the place to be. You were almost nervous to get up top and get left up there by yourself. We fought real hard all night and got better track position as the night went on. And, got a lot of help from all our friends. Some unexpected help from one of my most fierce competitors right there at the end. I was telling everybody before that restart, that I don't think Rusty (Wallace) has ever bump drafted me in my career. He's always trying to pass me because we were such competitors, corporately. He decided to tell me, from spotter to spotter, that he would help me. So, that was awesome at the end. We both gained spots there, working together, and ended up with a good finish."

"That was a good run by the team. My team's working hard. They've been working hard all year. So, hopefully, if anything, they say you carry momentum. I don't know if that's a possibility or not. But, we'll see what we can rack here in the next couple of weeks and try to close the gap on 10th place. This obviously helps and more runs like this would help. But, I understand this is Daytona and there aren't any more Daytonas and Talladegas before the Chase. We have to work really hard to gain ground on these other tracks we haven't had success yet this year."

Best Radio Chatter:

Dale Jr. narrowly avoided catastrophe when he squeezed through a multi-car accident on lap 35, receiving only minor damage from contact with Matt Kenseth's car:
Dale Jr.: "We were very, very, very lucky right there."
Steve Hmiel (crew chief): "Yeah, they just showed the in-car (camera view). Well, that's OK because we haven't been very lucky this year."

With its pit stall directly beside to the #29 Goodwrench pit stall, Dale Jr. nearly collided with Kevin Harvick's #29 when pulling out of the box, somewhat diluting a fast pit stop by the Brew Crew:

Dale Jr.: "Man, ya'll had a fast stop. Sorry I didn't pit shorter so I could get us out. I should've done a better job."
Hmiel: "That's cool, that's cool. You didn't knock the nose off getting in a big hurry. You're fast on the race track. That's fine."
Dale Jr.: "Yeah, tell the 29 they need to pick it up on the left side."
Hmiel (laughing): "OK, I don't think Donald Rumsfeld (sitting on the Goodwrench team's pit box) is helping them a whole lot."
Dale Jr.: "Awesome pit stop. I don't think there was a car on pit road within two seconds of that."

After a pit-stop that wasn't one of the better ones of the night:
Dale Jr.: "Alright, uhhhhh, that was not such a good stop. But still, when you're (crappy), you're still better than most. Haha. Gotta feel good about that, huh?"
Hmiel: "That's what we say about you when you're (crappy). You're still better than most!"
Dale Jr. (laughing): "That's pretty funny."

The eighth and final caution came out on lap 146 when a multi-car wreck behind Dale Jr. took out many good cars:


Dale Jr.: "That took a lot of people out."
Hmiel: "Yep, behind us - thank the Lord!"
Dale Jr.: "Hope everyone is OK."
Hmiel: "They appear to be, June."

Later in that caution period:
Hmiel (to spotter Jimmy Kitchens, as they formulated a strategy of drafting with the #07 of Dave Blaney): "Hey Jimmy, tell the 07 that if we're not real sure we can get the good run, we're going to stay down low. I know you know this already, Jimmy, but I guess we're so tickled to be running good we're talking too much."
Kitchens: "Definitely not talking too much. Alright guys, let's make this happen."

-dei-

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Series NASCAR-CUP