Fontana II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Sadler Wins Under The Lights at California, Bud Team 34th Late wrecks hand Dale Jr. second DNF of season Elliott Sadler took the lead with 24 laps to go and survived a late restart to win Sunday's Pop Secret 500 at the illuminated ...

Sadler Wins Under The Lights at California, Bud Team 34th
Late wrecks hand Dale Jr. second DNF of season

Elliott Sadler took the lead with 24 laps to go and survived a late restart to win Sunday's Pop Secret 500 at the illuminated California Speedway. Kasey Kahne finished second and Mark Martin third. Sadler became the sixth driver to clinch a spot in the Chase for the Championship, leaving four spots up for grabs in next week's "regular season" finale at Richmond. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team entered the day already locked in the Chase, and thankfully so. Signs of a good finish derailed in the late stages when a series of wrecks crippled the No. 8 Chevy and put it out for good on lap 220 with a 34th-place finish. It is only the second race this season the Bud team has not completed (the first was Las Vegas on March 7). Dale Jr. still remains third in the NASCAR Nextel Cup championship standings, now 116 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

Key Moments:

Sporting a special Dave Matthew's Band paint scheme, the Budweiser Chevrolet fought a poor handle from the start and fell from 12th to 32nd in only 38 laps. Major adjustments and quick pit stops brought the car back to life, as Dale Jr. clawed into the top 10 by lap 162. But from there, the night unraveled. The car became severely loose and hard to drive. A blown left-front tire resulted in a crash on lap 219. The ensuing pit stop became a disaster when - aside from being penalized for pitting too soon - Dale Jr. collided with teammate Michael Waltrip on exit. The capper came on lap 233 when Ken Schrader's blown engine and subsequent spin collected the Bud car. Dale Jr. slammed into Schrader's car, breaking the radiator and ending the race early for the Bud team.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"I was real happy there for awhile, because we had a better car than we started with. As it got darker I thought we were going to get better, but it just got looser. So it was kind of frustrating because the track changed so much. We'll know better next time. It was just a real frustrating night. The crew was working on the car, and it got faster. I was pretty happy and we were driving up through there. But the left front tire went flat and I spun out on it. I got held in the pits a lap. I got back there behind Kenny (Schrader) when he blew up and got in some oil and tore the car up. It's not a real good finish for us, but I was really kind of pleased with the way the guys were working and how the car was getting better all night ... I'm glad we're clinched (in the Chase) because this was a nightmare. Hopefully Richmond will be better."

Best Radio Chatter:

Greg Biffle's spin and crash brought out the fourth caution with the Bud team in 20th position.

Dale Jr.: "What happened there. Anybody else involved?"
Stevie Reeves (spotter): "Not sure. I was looking at you through binoculars through turns 1 and 2, so I couldn't see."
Dale Jr. (after several seconds of dead air): "Uhhh, would anybody else like to say what happened?"
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "Not sure, just saw smoke."
Dale Jr.: "How'd I get so far up in the field?"
Tony Jr.: "You were passing cars."
Dale Jr.: "No way, we sucked."
Tony Jr.: "We sucked at the beginning, but you were passing cars there."

Dale Jr. made an impressive entry into the pit stall on lap 106 under the fifth caution, and the Bud team peeled off a 13.81-second pit stop.

Dale Jr.: "Man, I knew I slid her in there a long ways, but I can't believe I slid that far!"
Tony Jr.: "You had those brakes locked up two pit stalls away! That was pretty cool."

During the same caution, track officials tried furiously to clean up the hot-dog wrappers and debris blown all over the track, but to no avail.

Dale Jr.: "Where is all that trash coming from, the grandstands?"
Tony Jr.: "Yeah, looks like they've sold the hell out of some hot dogs today."

-dei/budweiser-

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Series NASCAR-CUP