TALLADEGA, AL - For the second day in row, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. battled against adversity to win his fourth straight Talladega race, beating Buddy Baker's consecutive record of wins at Talladega. Earnhardt also joins his father in an elite club of...
TALLADEGA, AL - For the second day in row, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. battled against adversity to win his fourth straight Talladega race, beating Buddy Baker's consecutive record of wins at Talladega. Earnhardt also joins his father in an elite club of only three other drivers to sweep the Busch and Cup events at Talladega. Earnhardt, Sr. did it in 1993.
"After everything that was going on today, I was like, man I just want to be up front and get some points. Saw a shot there, I was working with Matt [Kenseth] to keep him up there, me and him was working together, he left such a big ole' hole down there going into three, and he would have done the same thing.
"Man, I am wore out. That took everything I had."
It is Earnhardt's first Winston Cup win this year, and the eighth of his career.
"There ain't too many (drivers) ever won four races here, period," Earnhardt, Jr. said. "I'm stepping into some awful big shoes."
Earnhardt, Jr. was at the rear of the field due to a race morning engine change and narrowly escaped "the big one". Earnhardt, Jr. suffered right front damage on the No. 8 Chevy after making contact with the No. 30 RCR Chevy of Jeff Green. The DEI team was able to tape up the loose sheet metal, and perform further repairs under the day's second caution which flew on lap 36 for debris.
Earnhardt, Jr. remained about half-a-lap down to the field until the events third caution flag unfurled on lap 63 for debris in the tri-oval. That yellow allowed Earnhardt, Jr. to rejoin the lead draft cars. The aero-damage to the No. 8's nose would not be insurmountable. It would take Earnhardt, Jr. almost 100 laps, but he was able to put the DEI Chevy into contention, switching back-and-forth with Jeff Gordon for the lead with 70 laps left.
Positions continued to volley about, as cars fell in and out of the draft. Earnhardt, Jr. kept the No. 8 car in position and continued to battle back to the front. On the final set of green flag pit stops Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy shoved his nose into top spot. With 17 laps left, however, Earnhardt, Jr. would not be denied, as he muscled the No. 8 Chevy around Johnson to reassume the race lead.
Johnson was not amused with Earnhardt, Jr.'s bold move to the front, and soon cruised past the No. 8 Chevy with 12 laps left. The two continued to swap spaces in an effort to settle the battle, but with two laps to go Johnson, who led the most laps, spun out, finishing 15th.
It was up to Earnhardt, Jr. to hold off the hard charging No. 17 Roush Ford of Matt Kenseth for the win. Earnhardt, Jr. made a controversial pass under the out of bounds line to pass Kenseth.
The rule book prohibits drivers dipping below the yellow line at restrictor plate races to advance their position, but NASCAR ruled the pass legal. From that moment on, it was the No. 8 DEI Chevy to the checkered flag.
"First off, I have to thank my drafting partner Kevin Harvick," said Earnhardt, Jr. "He was there when it counted. We wouldn't be sitting here without the help he gave us there at the end. Instead of thanking your crew these days, you have to thank the guys you worked with during the race."
Kenseth was hung out to dry by the lead pack of cars and fell back to ninth.
"Junior got under me and passed me for the lead and had a run on me and I just couldn't get down in front of him," commented Kenseth. "Then the 29 was pushing me really good and we had a run to the outside of the 8 and he kind of faked right like he was gonna go with me and then went behind the 8.
"I shouldn't expect that. There's nothing wrong with that because everybody has to make their own decisions, but I couldn't win the race without anyone pushing me. That's just the way it works, but if you line up behind the 8, it's hard to beat him."
Harvick piloted the No. 29 RCR Chevy home for his best career finish at Talladega with second place.
Rounding out the top five are Elliott Sadler in third, Ricky Craven fourth and Terry Labonte who scored his first top-five in the last twenty-eight races.
Just like yesterday's Busch race, the "Big One" came early. Just four laps had been recorded when the No. 12 Penske Dodge of Ryan Newman cut a tire. Newman slammed the wall in turn one so violently that his Dodge turned sideways and almost went over on its lid. A tire from Newman's car bounced over the retaining fence breaking the tethered and landing harmlessly on a safety workers car in a restricted area. As the Dodge slid down the track, it was hit multiple times before erupting into flames. A track record setting 27-car pile-up ensued all around him. Newman was uninjured in the accident and finished 39th.
"The same thing happened yesterday in the Busch race. We just cut a tire and that's all there is to it. It was a hard hit. I might have hit harder, but that was a hard hit. I guess it's better for it to happen now than at the end. It usually happens once.
"That's just the way these races are. We'll be good at Martinsville, you watch."
While Earnhardt, Jr. battled for the big check, troubles befell his DEI teammates. Steve Park had to pit under a lap 36 yellow to repair to his rear spoiler. Park, who was not involved in the "big one" had led lap 30 and looked to be a contender for the win. A loose rear spoiler would end those dreams for the No. 1 Chevy, it took over 6 minutes to make the repair and put Park two-laps down on the restart. Park charted a 20th place finish.
On lap 83, Michael Waltrip in the No. 15 Chevy got the squeeze play by the No. 24 Hendrick Chevy of Jeff Gordon causing Waltrip to tap Mike Wallace's No. 9 Dodge ultimately sending the No. 15 Chevy into the wall. In the tussle, Waltrip also collected pole sitter Jeremy Mayfield. Mayfield was able to make repairs on stay on the lead lap; Waltrip went a lap down to the leaders but did rejoin the field. Waltrip placed 24th.
"This is the best car I've ever had here," said Mayfield, who finished 18th. "The guys did a great job, and we backed up what we qualified and ran good. It looks like they gave it to the 8 car. He can do what he wants to do.
"After we got wrecked we just couldn't keep up with them. We kept working on it after that and got it better. We had a good car. They knew we were here, and we're getting better. I could have got the lap back, but there's a guy out there who doesn't like to give a guy his lap back."
Defending Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart also had a miserable afternoon. On the restart after Waltrip's wreck, the No. 97 Roush Ford of Kurt Busch attempted to thread the needle between Busch's teammate Greg Biffle and Stewart. The hole wasn't quite big enough.
Busch pushed Stewart into the wall, rammed the rear end of Biffle and caused contention ending nose damage on his Roush Ford. Busch did rejoin the race but Stewart's car endured heavy body damage and had to be taken behind the wall for repairs costing him 31 lost laps in the race.
Busch was 19th, Stewart 25th.
Biffle, whose car already looked like an escapee from the junkyard from the lap four melee; managed to stay in the race and work his way into the top five until late in the race. Biffle's limping No. 16 Roush Ford finally came undone late in the event, relegating him to a 22nd place finish.
"Yeah, we had a really good car," explained Biffle. "We had a top-five, for sure, coming. I was just being real patient, but the lower ball joint just busted out of the lower A-frame. That must have been from that very first crash down there. Obviously, it took a hit and then came apart."
Current championship leader Kenseth extended his top spot to 129- points. Earnhardt, Jr.'s win bumped him up one spot to second while Busch's poor finish slipped him to third in front of Hendrick teammates Johnson and Jeff Gordon.