Gordon Wins Finale - But This Time It's Robby Dale Jr. Struggles to 24th Place, Secures 8th Place in Points Robby Gordon grabbed his first career Winston Cup victory when he bumped race leader Jeff Gordon with 15 laps to go in the New Hampshire...
Gordon Wins Finale - But This Time It's Robby
Dale Jr. Struggles to 24th Place, Secures 8th Place in Points
Robby Gordon grabbed his first career Winston Cup victory when he bumped race leader Jeff Gordon with 15 laps to go in the New Hampshire 300 Friday afternoon at the New Hampshire International Speedway. The race was the season-finale for the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup season after being postponed from its original date the week of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon retaliated against Robby (no relation) on the following lap, and was penalized one lap by NASCAR. Sterling Marlin finished second in the race to move into fourth position in the final point standings, and Bobby Labonte finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team struggled to a 24th place finish (three laps behind the winner), but secured eighth place in the final standings.
The Key Moment: Starting 8th (based on points position at the time of the original race date), Dale Jr. slid backwards in the standings almost immediately. The warmer-than-expected weather wreaked mayhem on the right-side tires, causing them to blister. This, combined with the one-day race format that allowed for a single, short early-morning practice session, caught the No. 8 team with an evil-handling race car. When the second yellow flag of the day flew on lap 50, the team chose to make two pit stops to make a series of changes to the car. The two stops dropped them to 39th place, and the changes made no major improvement to the lap times. At the next yellow flag, the team again chose to make a series of pit stops to adjust the right front spring and right front camber (the angle that the tire meets the pavement). These changes proved to be beneficial, but by that point in the race the team was in 41st position, two laps behind the leaders. The remaining 200 laps were a game of catch-up, as Dale Jr. and the red Bud car sliced through heavy traffic to gain 17 positions.
Dale Jr's Quotes: "We were junk to begin with, but once we made those changes, we could at least run competitive times with the leaders. This place makes track position very critical, so we were never able to make up the laps we lost. The last fifty laps were crazy. We had some pretty damn good racing going on there. I didn't know who was even on the same lap as we were or if I was racing lead-lap cars, but everyone was racing hard. I knocked the nose of the car in racing the 01 car (Jason Leffler) and after the race it looked like one of those cool muscle-cars in the 60s with the sloped nose."
"I learned pretty quickly that the blisters would form on the tires if you drove it too hard. If I'd race someone really hard for a couple of laps, maybe run side-by-side, it was almost like I could feel every chunk coming off of the tires. I'd come out of a corner and I'd be 'oh, there goes another chunk' If I really took it easy on the tires early on in a run, they seemed to last a lot longer."
"I'm happy we finished eighth in points, but, damn! I really wanted to catch that Miller car (Rusty Wallace)." (Wallace finished the season 21 points ahead of Earnhardt Jr.)
Radio Chatter (the best moments of radio conversation during the race)
With so much on the line - the team could have climbed as high as sixth or as low as tenth in the final standings based on their finish today - everyone tried hard to temper their disappointment with a difficult race car. Here is a series of exchanges in the first 100 laps.
Dale Jr: "It's really really bad now"
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "10-4. If it's really bad just bring it in and we'll fix it - there's no sense in taking a chance on injuring yourself by trying to do too much here."
Ty Norris (spotter): "Just hang on a couple more laps. NASCAR should throw another mandatory caution"
Dale Jr: "There must be something wrong with this set of tires. I gotta bad vibration in the right front. It's so bad it feels like something is bent. We got something serious goin' on here."
Tony Jr. : "OK, we'll change the air pressures.."
Dale Jr.: "You gotta give me more than that. I don't wanna be sideways like this anymore. It ain't no fun"
Norris: "OK, give us two more laps. NASCAR is going to throw a caution flag"
Dale Jr: "Let's make some big changes here. We may as well park it if it keeps drivin' the way it is right now"
The team made a series of four pit stops during the caution flag that
fell on lap 96, falling two laps behind.
Dale Jr: (trying to hide his obvious disappointment.) "OK, we still gotta chance at a decent finish here. Let's keep after it and pass these guys. We can come back"
Points Points Points
Dale Jr. improved his points position dramatically this season, from 16th place in 2000 to eighth place this year. A full statistical rundown of the season for the No. 8 Budweiser team will follow in the next several days.
Money Won: $72,948
Points Position: 8th
Laps Led: ---
Best Pit Stop: Lap 202 / 4 tires and Fuel / 15.59 seconds