Fontana II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Johnson Wins California, Another Fifth Place for Dale Jr. Bud Team Leads 15 Laps at California Speedway Jimmie Johnson won Sunday night's Sharp Aquos 500 at California Speedway, strengthening his position for the upcoming 10-race Chase for the...

Johnson Wins California, Another Fifth Place for Dale Jr.
Bud Team Leads 15 Laps at California Speedway

Jimmie Johnson won Sunday night's Sharp Aquos 500 at California Speedway, strengthening his position for the upcoming 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship. Carl Edwards finished second while Kyle Busch was third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team finished fifth for the second consecutive week after leading the race six times for 15 laps. (Coming into tonight's race, Junior had led eight laps total in his Cup career at California Speedway.) This is the third top-five tally for the Bud team in the last five races, and they have now led eight of the last 11 races. It is their sixth top-five of the season and the 10th top-10 in the first 25 races. With one race remaining before the Chase, Dale Jr. is now 128 points behind 12th place Kevin Harvick, which means Junior is still mathematically eligible - though a very long shot. If Harvick finishes last in the race next Saturday night in Richmond, Dale Jr. would have to finish fifth (and lead at least one lap) or better to earn a spot in the Chase. Junior is also mathematically able to top 11th-place Kurt Busch, who is now 13 points ahead of Harvick.

Key Moments:

Dale Jr., starting 7th, was easily one of the fastest cars on the track for the entire race, falling out of the top-ten positions only after making a green-flag pit stops. The team led for the first time on lap 41, then took the point several additional times through the evening, including a sparkling battle of close and tense racing with Kyle Busch. The two exchanged the lead several times for nearly 10 laps. The Bud car was better than the rest of the field on longer runs of 20 laps or more, but the extreme temperatures and slick track meant many yellow flag periods in the final half of the race, negating the advantage for Dale Jr. and his team. The team avoided disaster on lap 210 when the right front tire went flat as Junior entered turn one, but he was able to limp back to the pits for service without losing a lap. However, the tire issue meant the team lost a lot of time and distance, falling to 18th place. They were able to make up 13 spots in the final 40 laps of green flag racing, but were unable to again challenge the leaders.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"It's a good job for the team. It was so damn hot out here all weekend, and we were fast through the entire 500 miles. We were good all night - but the car was never quite perfect. It was either too loose or too tight, but it was a heckuva lot of fun racing like hell for the lead with those guys. When you're racing side-by-side with someone like Kyle Busch, it's so much fun that you forget how hot it is. That's when you realize how great it is that you get to do something amazing like drive a racecar for a living. But, when the track temperature is 150 degrees like it was at the start of the race, it makes it the most miserable feeling inside that car. I mean, it was so hot even the smallest thing would really upset me and I apologized to my guys on the radio to warn them I wasn't going to be very pleasant to deal with, even though we were running so well.

"The points?! I'm not worried about them at all right now. I just want to cool down somehow and go home. These night races make it seem like we're here for days and days with nothing but a lot of waiting around. We're packing the extra bottles of water and we're getting out of here."

Best Radio Chatter:

Dale Jr. has developed a style of running a very high line, running only inches from the wall for the entire lap. This is fast - but precarious because of the dirt and debris that collects in that area of the track. After Michael Waltrip blew an engine, the top groove became even more treacherous- not to mention very bumpy - jostling the car and the driver violently.

Dale Jr.: "Wow... the top of (turns) three and four are still dirty with that oil!"

Steve Hmiel (spotter): "Yeah - Martin (Truex Jr. - DEI teammate) just radioed and said you were throwing a pretty big rooster tail up there!"

Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief) "We're going to take a 1/2-pound (of air pressure) out of the right rear (tire). That should make up for all of the changes we made on the last stop."

Dale Jr: "(Expletive deleted)! That's a lot of things you've changed on a second-place car!"

Eury Jr: "Yeah, I know, but we have to stay ahead of the track to stay up there. I'll pay you extra for all the bounces!"

Dale Jr: "I know you can't do anything about all the bumps. I'm just gonna keep complaining. I'm not gonna be anybody's best friend tonight. It's so damn hot in here, every little thing is aggravating me!"

***

Dale Jr. raced hard for the lead in a side-by-side battle with Kyle Busch in a fierce battle that seemed to thrilled the fans who were baking in the 100+ degree weather.

Dale Jr (to his spotter Hmiel): "Tell the 5 (Busch) this is fun!"

***

The team gambled with pit strategy by staying on track under a yellow flag period on lap 86. Dale Jr. held his place among the top-three spots until the next yellow on lap 94. The driver wasn't thrilled with the decision, but the crew chief became cheerleader.

Tony Jr: "We're staying out. Hang in there. If we get another caution, we'll pit."

Dale Jr: "You just like making it tough on me!... Why did the 12 car (R. Newman) pit for tires?"

Hmiel: "He was involved in the yellow. He was the one that spun."

Dale Jr: (surprised) "Really?! I thought it was an Evernham car spinnin' out. I need to get my eyes checked. It's hard to see that when you're driving on the defense out here."

-credit: dei

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Carl Edwards , Tony Eury Jr. , Kyle Busch