Jerry Nadeau became the fourth first-time winner this year Monday afternoon in the NAPA 500, the final race of the Winston Cup season. (The race had been rained out Sunday.) Nadeau joins Dale Earnhardt Jr, Matt Kenseth and Steve Park as a first-time winner this season, which ties a NASCAR record first set in 1988. Starting 40th, Earnhardt Jr. had an adventuresome day in the Budweiser car, finishing 20th, three laps behind Nadeau.
Starting 40th, Earnhardt Jr. had a long day ahead of him when the green flag flew at 10:15 on this crisp, clear and chilly morning. Pit stop strategy in the first 100 laps moved Dale Jr. into the top 15 until lap 110, when a pit stop spelled trouble for the No. 8 Budweiser team. While exiting his pit area, Dale Jr. ran into the right rear of the John Andretti, slicing open the bumper of Andretti's car like a can opener, and damaging the left rear fender of the No. 8 machine. The team was forced to make another pit stop on the following lap to repair the damage, and dropped deep into the pack. From that point forward, the Bud car was seemingly on a bungee-cord: moving up several spots, dropping back several, then again moving up. In the end, he out-dueled his Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Steve Park for the 20th position. "We never found the set-up. We were great here in the spring, and we believed that we could come back with the same car and the same set-up and be just as competitive. But, the tires were much different this time and we were never able to find that balance again."
"We were really good at the start of each run (on fresh tires). I could catch cars ahead of me pretty easily, but as the run would go longer and longer the car would begin to chatter in the corners. A real violent vibration - and the car would just slide across the track. We came in early on one run because it got so bad it felt like something was broken in the right rear of the car. The longer we ran, the looser it got. I was sideways a lot of the time like I was driving a sprint car on a dirt track. What made it worse was the car was 'aero-tight' -- the car would not turn into the corners when it was behind another car. The nose would slide up the track when I would come up behind a guy."
<pre> Dale Jr. and the Budweiser team had a roller-coaster season in 2000. Here are the numbers for the year (numbers in parenthesis are overall rankings):
Wins: 3 (Texas, Richmond, the Winston) Bud Pole Positions: 2 (Charlotte, Michigan -- both track records) Final Points Position: 16th Season Earnings: $2,610,396 (10th overall) Races Led: 10 Laps Led: 427 Top 10 starts: 14 Top 10 Finishes: 5 Top 5 Finishes: 3 Rookie Points: 2nd place Average Finish: 20.9 Average Start: 14.5 Top Rookie Finisher: 8 races
2000 Season Highlights: Dale Jr. won his first Winston Cup race in only his 12th start, second-quickest in the modern era
Dale Jr. won his second race in only his 16th start, the quickest multi-race winner in Winston Cup history
Dale Jr. is the first rookie to qualify outright for the Winston all-star race. He also became the first rookie to win the Winston
Dale Jr. is only the third rookie in Winston Cup history to win more than one race in his debut season