Kenseth Wins Dover, Dale Jr. Finishes 10th
Bud Team Moves to Highest Points Position of Season
Matt Kenseth won a thrilling late-race battle with teammate Jamie McMurray to win Sunday's Neighborhood Excellence 400 at Dover International Speedway. Kevin Harvick was third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team finished tenth and continued their climb in the point standings. Dale Jr. is now fourth in points at the halfway stage of the 26-race "regular" season to determine the top-10 drivers that will compete in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. In 13 career starts at Dover, Dale Jr. has now led eight races and has finished in the top-10 six times. The Bud team has finished 11th or better in 10 of the 13 races in 2006, and Dale Jr. now has a 237-point cushion over the 11th-place driver.
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 11th, slowly dropped back to 19th place at the first yellow flag. But after some subtle changes to the handling of the car, Dale Jr. regained a spot in the top-10 by earning nine positions on the lengthy green flag run that followed. For much of the 400-laps, the red No. 8 car was cradled somewhere between ninth and 12th position, but gained five spots late in the race when many lead lap cars pitted with slightly more than 50 laps remaining. From that point forward, despite older tires, Dale Jr. was able to maintain his spot in the top-10.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
Q: You can't be happy with tenth? "Yes. It's what we want. The car was really loose and we dropped back to 19th, and we had to work on the car all day. We were never really good enough to be a top-five car, but we made the car good enough where we could be a top-10 team, so that's why we're happy and why it's important to earn every spot and get what we got out of it. That's important. We'd like to be a top-five car and be dominant and lead a lot of laps, but when you don't have that, you have to think about the Chase and making the most of what you have. We've done that all year long. I think that's certainly the formula for making it into the Chase, and it may be the formula for winning a championship. You have to get a top-10 each week if you want to stay in the mix.
"My crew has been solid - they were solid again today. No mistakes and I'm pretty happy with everybody. They may be using these races to test and learn for the Chase, but I'm just going out each week to get the most out of what I'm given every lap that I drive, and it's been good almost every time out this season. We keep moving up in the points, and that's the key right now."
Best Radio Chatter:
Sometimes one of your competitors can offer feedback like no one else, even if most of the rest of us aren't exactly sure of the significance....
Dale Jr: (on lap 231, during green flag racing): "Steve (Hmiel, spotter), ask Kenny Wallace's spotter a question."
Hmiel: "10-4. I'm standing right beside him."
Dale Jr.: "When I go by, ask Kenny if the car's yawed-out (front tire angle)."
Hmiel: "He says it's yawed-out a little bit, but not as much as he's seen in the past."
Dale Jr.: "heheheheh. OK."
As the race entered the final 100 laps, fuel strategy became the focus as the Bud team chose to pit on lap 302, falling behind several cars that had pitted a few lap prior.
Dale Jr: 'Well, we got beat by a couple o' cars, but not too many."
Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "Yeah, some of 'em took fuel only. But that's why they call it 'gambling.'"
Dale Jr: "Are we good on fuel?"
Tony Jr,: "We may stop one lap before the green just to be safe if we have a green-white-checkered."
Hmiel: "They've just dumped speedy-dry all down the back stretch. They're gonna need to clean it with the jet dryers or broom it. It's gonna be awhile... now they need to clean off the corner as well... I apologize - I know I'm talking a lot but I'm trying to let you know how long this is gonna take."
Eury Jr: "Yeah. I think we'll be alright. I think we'll stay out."
Dale Jr: "Yeah Steve - I was beginning to think I was on a conference call... are we good on gas?"
Eury Jr: "We're good. Stay out."
The team regained those positions and a few more when many of the rest of the lead lap cars pitted with 50 laps to go.
Dale Jr: "I ain't gettin' tires or nothin.' I'm stayin' out and goin' right to the front... (then watches as five cars ahead of him make pit stops) Yeah! Got me some spots! If it's really down to new tires, I think we'll have a chance to come back in if we need to, but I think I can hold my own. When I get stickers (new tires), they're really slick on the restarts. I just can't go on the restarts. It's either because I'm asleep after eight laps of yellow or if it's the new tires."
Eury Jr: "Well, you got old ones now, so keep 'em heated up and GO!"