HAMPTON, Ga. - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. redeemed himself Sunday, after a problematic race in Las Vegas last weekend, by winning the 500-mile NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It is Earnhardt's best result at AMS, the 11th win...
HAMPTON, Ga. - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. redeemed himself Sunday, after a problematic race in Las Vegas last weekend, by winning the 500-mile NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It is Earnhardt's best result at AMS, the 11th win of his career, and his second victory this season.
The victory helps balm the ennui of the No. 8 Chevy team after taking a hard hit in points last weekend. Earnhardt entered Vegas first in the drivers' points, but left seventh after finishing 35th. Today's victory lifts Earnhardt back up to third in the series standings.
Earnhardt didn't start the race as the class of the field, but the DEI Budweiser team made adjustments and kept digging to hit the perfect combination for their driver.
"Every stop, Tony (Eury) Jr. made adjustments to the car," commented Earnhardt. "We made more adjustments and more adjustments and kept me up on the car. I told him to just kind of creep up on it and not really go to crazy.
"We dialed the car in better and better and it was still kind of this and that at the end of the race. I wasn't real happy with what the car was doing, but apparently it was good enough."
Earnhardt led three times for 55 of 312 laps, but it was when he climbed into the catbird seat for the second time at lap 266 that he looked untouchable.
Mayfield made up ground after a round of pit stops with 23 laps left, but at lap 310 Earnhardt sailed past the No. 19 Dodge for the final time.
The run was a real testament to the determination of the No. 8 team. As one crew member commented before the race, 'the game is on', they certainly showed 'game face' today as they try to acquire their first series title.
"In the middle of that Vegas race last week either I would've got fed up and quit and parked it, or me and Tony Jr. would've ensued into a hellacious cussing match. " stated Earnhardt of how he would have reacted two years ago.
But a new maturity has helped him and his team focus, "Two years ago, maybe even last year, we would've self-destructed. We probably wouldn't have come out of that for some time," added Earnhardt.
"We had a great car to start with," said Mayfield. "However, as the race went on, the tighter we got. We should have made more aggressive adjustments. We came back this week and didn't make any mistakes. I feel like we are right back where we were at the end of last season."
The second place spot for Mayfield marked his best result of the season. Kahne's third place finish, earned him his third top-three finish in four races.
"This should help us keep our momentum going. We've got to be more consistent through the race. The last two weeks we've dropped off in the middle of the race," explained Kahne.
"We fight back at the end and get everything going," Kahne continued. "But that's the only thing that's going to make us better. To get that win, I think we've got to run better through the middle part of the race."
Jimmie Johnson finished fourth, he ascended back into the top ten in rankings to 9th position (-193).
"We needed a decent finish," said Johnson. "We needed a little bit of luck. We didn't have the fastest car today, but felt like we were a top 10 car all day long. We just had to keep working on the car. We were loose and then tight and then loose again."
Polesitter Ryan Newman completed the top five, "The team did a great job. We just lost it on the last pit stop there. We came in running pretty good, but we lost something coming out. The ALLTEL Dodge was strong. We'll get 'em next week. It was a good fun for us especially after last week."
Early troubles for point leader and defending Cup series champion Matt Kenseth. Kenseth spun at the entrance to pit road at lap 57, taking out all the cones on the commitment line. The No. 17 Roush Racing Ford lost valuable time, and had to take a stop and go penalty by NASCAR for the spin. The miscue by Kenseth cost the team a lap.
But Kenseth is indomitable. At lap 148, Kenseth was the beneficiary of the "lucky dog" rule and got back on the lead lap. He picked his way back through the field to garner 6th position.
The strong run kept Kenseth in the points lead fro the chase to the title. championship. He leads second place Tony Stewart by 82 points. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-90), Kasey Kahne (-123) and Jeff Gordon (-130) complete the top five.
"I'm happy with the overall result considering everything that went wrong," commented Kenseth. "At the beginning of the race we had a lot better car than that and I messed it up. I feel bad about that, but even if we would have been in the front, we didn't have better than a sixth-place car at the end."
Notably, NASCAR instituted a new pit road rule on Sunday. Pit road will be closed for the first lap under caution from this race forward; the new rule is an effort to allow the field to catch up before motoring down for pit stops. It is meant to be an added safety precaution for competitors and track safety workers.
"We're going to leave pit road closed and it's purely to make the environment safer and at the same time keep it fair competitive-wise," NASCAR President Mike Helton said. "If it means we have to leave it closed two laps, like at Darlington and Bristol, then we'll do that."