Kenseth Wins the Race, Johnson Wins The Title An Era Ends with Another Bizarre Day for Dale Jr. and the Bud Team Jimmie Johnson won his second consecutive Nextel Cup title Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as Matt Kenseth won the Ford...
Kenseth Wins the Race, Johnson Wins The Title
An Era Ends with Another Bizarre Day for Dale Jr. and the Bud Team
Jimmie Johnson won his second consecutive Nextel Cup title Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as Matt Kenseth won the Ford 400. Kurt Busch finished second in the race while Denny Hamlin was third. Johnson clinched the title with a seventh-place finish. The nine-year era of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team ended on a down note as the red No. 8 machine was more like a pinball than racecar, twice being taken out from behind by other drivers early in the race. The team made repairs and later suffered from a flat tire to drop further behind to finish in 36th position. The poor finish dropped Dale Jr. two positions in the final point standings, finishing the season in 16th place. It is his lowest points finish since his rookie season when he also finished 16th. This marks the first season since he joined the Cup Series full-time in 2000 that he did not win a race.
Dale Jr. qualified 13th, but started at the back of the field after the team changed the transmission after Saturday's first practice session. The 41st-place start did little to slow Dale Jr. down early in the race, as he seemed to easily climb through the field into ninth place on lap 50, when he attempted to make his first pit stop. Using the unique access road at Homestead, Dale Jr. briefly slid into the dirt and grass alongside the access road but was then hit hard and spun from behind by a hard-charging Kyle Busch. After spinning, Dale Jr. returned to the racetrack and made his stop (with minimal damage) on the following lap. However, because he had crossed the "commitment line" for the pit lane before being crashed, he was penalized by NASCAR for re-entering the racetrack. The penalty put him at the tail of the field for the restart on lap 57 - but disaster struck again as Dale Jr. was slammed from behind by Jeff Burton and spun hard into the outside wall. The team was able to make some repairs with multiple stops, but dropped laps behind the leaders - and as low as 42nd place. The remainder of the race was simply an exercise in perseverance, as Dale Jr. struggled with a flat tire on lap 224, falling further behind and eventually ending the night in 36th place, six laps behind Kenseth.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"Man, it's been a hard day. A hard year all around. I am going to go home, take a deep breath and try to take a little time. The same thing everybody else is going to do. I try not to let my confidence get abused or hurt, but so many things happened this year. You may not think it is your fault or you did anything wrong or anything to put yourself in that situation but someone on the other side of the fence may see it better. We ran great all year - but never finished where we deserved to finish.
"I had a great car, I got up to 11th. (actually, 9th) Did ya'all see that? We were running good. I got run over by a veteran on a restart. I don't know what the hell that was. I am so disappointed. Jeff Burton is one of the guys I would expect that from the least. Give and take. I don't know, he said that the sun was in his eyes. It was blinding down the front straightaway. But, my luck, I didn't think it could get worse until then. I hate that (Burton) was the guy, it is upsetting. I was running great and then I got hit by one of the veterans I never expected. Before that, Kyle (Busch) was being a jerk, running in to me and carrying on and trying to rile me up. I don't know why he spun me out on pit road. I guess he was blinded by the sun too. Or he just can't see at all. The integrity is what is important so that is what I am going to hang on to. A small part of me wants to go smash him in the nose, but then I'd be lowering myself to that level, ya know? You just have to move on. I can't wait to get back to work. Get this over with, get past this, I want to win races."
"I guess I thought I would be sadder (about it being the final race with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Budweiser), but I am not. I still have all these guys as friends, that is even better than the working relationship. We didn't wreck hard enough to quit tonight, we kept going. I don't have all my good quotes right now, I don't know why. It is over. It is over, I am going to go do something else, I have them as friends and they have things to do too. They have things to worry about and need to worry about themselves and their families. They have to move on, I am sure they will. I wish them all a good holiday season and of course, I wish them good luck next year. It is good to be finished and be able to relax a little bit and take a couple of weeks and recharge my batteries and then get after it."
Best Radio Chatter:
It was a thoughtful driver that started the final race in the DEI red Budweiser No. 8 car...
Dale Jr (right before the start of the race): "One last thing I wanna tell y'all... I was lucky to have you guys on my team."
Tony Gibson (crew chief): "We appreciate that, ol' man. You never gave up on us and you drove your ass off for us this year..."
Dale Jr. managed to hold most of his anger and frustration for the majority of the race, but wondered aloud about a season of misfortune and bizarre bad luck.
Dale Jr. (lap 158): "Man... I feel like I'm bad luck. They say you create your own luck.I wonder of it's me."
Gibson: "Nah. Maybe it's spread among all of us."
Dale Jr: "I wonder if I'm really putting myself in these positions? Am I doing it - or is it just bad luck!? I don't want it to continue or keep doin' it no matter who I drive for!"
Gibson: "You'll be just fine."
With a battered car, Dale Jr. attempted (perhaps intentionally) to alter the handling of the car by repeatedly scraping the wall while running his familiar high line around the track...
Dale Jr. (after a particularly hard hit): "One of these times it's gonna loosen the car up!"
TJ Majors (spotter): "Ha! 10-4."
Dale Jr. (a few laps later): "I gotta flat tire!"
Gibson (after the pit stop): "Just so you know, the right rear was definitely flat."
Dale Jr: "Oh yeah. Heh - I hit the fence with it seven times!"
The team decided to stay out and not make a pit stop during a late race yellow-flag. The driver, however, had other ideas as he came onto pit road unannounced for the final stop of his DEI/Bud career.
Dale Jr: "I'm comin' down pit road cuz' I like you guys!"
Gibson: "10-4, ol' man. We'll give you four (tires) for old time's sake!"
After the race...
Gibson: "Sorry it ended like this. Wish you the best of luck next year."
Dale Jr: "I appreciate it."
Gibson: "You'll have better luck then."
Dale Jr.: "I HOPE so!"