Fontana: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Budweiser Team Shakes Fontana Funk, Finishes 11th Matt Kenseth wins Auto Club 500 Matt Kenseth capped a dominating day for the Roush Racing brigade by winning the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway on Sunday. Kenseth led 40 laps (topped only...

Budweiser Team Shakes Fontana Funk, Finishes 11th
Matt Kenseth wins Auto Club 500

Matt Kenseth capped a dominating day for the Roush Racing brigade by winning the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway on Sunday. Kenseth led 40 laps (topped only by teammate Greg Biffle's 168 laps led) and held off point-leader Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checkered finish. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team finished 11th, and in doing so took a big step in taming what has been a beast of a race track the past few years. The Bud team's average finish in the last three races here was 34.6, but on Sunday Dale Jr. came within mere feet of a top-10. It is his best finish at California Speedway since his sixth-place effort in April, 2003. It also moves him up to fifth in the Nextel Cup point standings, 68 points behind leader Johnson and eight points behind fourth-place Kasey Kahne.

Key Moments: A relatively mundane and non-eventful day of racing for the back spots of the top-20 became a bonsai dash for a top-10, as Dale Jr. benefited from a late pit stop to pass six cars in the final two laps. Until then, he had been bogged down in the 15th to 20th positions all day, never falling far from his original starting spot of 18th but never making huge gains either. That all changed when a series of late cautions helped bump the Bud car to 14th on lap 215, then to 11th on lap 228. The decision not to pit for tires during the sixth caution proved costly, as Dale Jr. slipped from 10th to 17th in 13 laps. But the race's seventh yellow flag came out four laps from the scheduled finish, allowing the Bud team to put on its final set of Goodyear tires and -- perhaps more importantly -- apply tape to the front grill to get maximum downforce. It paid off, as Dale Jr. passed six cars in the final two laps to reach the highest position of the afternoon for the Bud team.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"Tires, man! Tires were the difference for us there at the end. We passed -- how many, six cars? -- six cars in the final two laps. That was good for us. We didn't come and get tires with 22 laps to go, and some of those other guys behind us did. We were sitting 11th and lost all those spots, so it was great to get them back. I felt like we didn't have a top-15 car all day. We were right outside of that most of the day. We had a great car that handled great in the corners, but it's pretty evident we need to work harder on getting more horsepower. But to come in here and get an 11th-place finish, considering how bad we've sucked here the past few years, I'm pretty happy. I've said all week that I think we're headed in the right direction at these types of tracks. We're not where we need to be, but we're getting there. I'm just proud of my team, proud of my pit crew. We had more great pit stops today. I drove as hard as I could, and we came out of here with a pretty decent finish."

Best Radio Chatter:

While it's not known for how long, Dale Jr. apparently thought he was a lap down to the leaders when the second caution flag flew on lap 88.

Dale Jr.: "Yeaaaahhh! I'm the lucky dog! I saw Martin (Truex) coming in behind me and I thought I was going to have to race for it."

Tony Jr.: "Uhh, Junebug, you're not even close to being a lap down."

Dale Jr.: "What's going on, am I a lap down?"

Tony Jr.: "No, we're on the lead lap. We're 17th, and there are 26 cars on the lead lap."

Dale Jr.: "Oh, I saw that 1 next to my number on the board, and I got nervous because it said there I'm a lap down."

Tony Jr.: "Yeah, that's because nobody is clicking off their deals when they come around. The leaders were so far ahead from the field, I guess it got a little confusing."

Dale Jr. (laughing): "Oh, OK."

***

After passing six cars -- including Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett and Martin Truex -- to finish 11th:

Dale Jr.: "Whoa! Hell yeah!"

Tony Jr. (laughing): "Yessir, great job there, driver!"

Dale Jr.: "It was like plate-racing out there! Whewwww! That was good. Thanks for the tires!"

Tony Jr.: "Ten-four."

Dale Jr.: "Where'd I finish?"

Tony Jr.: "Eleventh. One-one."

Dale Jr.: "Eleventh, I see. Alright, good job! Thanks for the tires, Junior. I drove it hard for ya."

Tony Jr.: "Nah, that was it. You ain't got no more. We don't get credit for tires we don't use, so we're done. That was all the sets we had. Good job."

-dei

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Greg Biffle , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Martin Truex Jr.