Indianapolis: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Stewart Wins Again at Indy, Dale Jr. 34th Bud Team Leads 33 Laps, Falls From Top-Five With Engine Issues Tony Stewart grabbed his second consecutive NASCAR Nextel Cup victory Sunday, taking the checkered flag in the Allstate 400 at the...

Stewart Wins Again at Indy, Dale Jr. 34th
Bud Team Leads 33 Laps, Falls From Top-Five With Engine Issues

Tony Stewart grabbed his second consecutive NASCAR Nextel Cup victory Sunday, taking the checkered flag in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It is the second Brickyard win for the Indiana native, as he topped Juan Montoya in second place and Jeff Gordon, who finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team were the dominant car for the first half of the race, leading 33 laps and remaining among the top-10 for nearly the entire afternoon until lap 135. While running in the fifth position, an engine pulley broke or came off, and ended the day prematurely for the Budweiser team. Dale Jr. finished in 34th position, but remains in 12th place in the Nextel Cup point standings with six races remaining before the field is set for the Chase for the Championship. Despite the premature end to their race, this was by far the team's best performance at the legendary Brickyard. Until today's race, Dale Jr. had led only 13 laps in his career, a mark he easily eclipsed early in the running.

Key Moments:

Dale Jr., starting 4th, wasted no time climbing to second place on the first lap, then took the lead by aggressively passing eventual winner Stewart on lap 20. Dale Jr. held the lead through several pit stops and caution periods until Stewart got back by on lap 54. Unhappy with the handling of the car, the Bud team opted to change only two left-side tires during the caution period on lap 63. However, the gamble didn't pay off, as the Bud machine became a handful to maneuver and Dale Jr. eventually dropped to 13th position on lap 98 before a four tires change allowed Dale Jr. to regain positions in rapid succession. The team made their best stop under green flag conditions on lap 126, and were set to race to the finish without stopping for fuel. While running in fifth place, and ahead of eventual second-place finisher Montoya, the belt gave way some 10 laps later and the day was over for the bright red No. 8 machine after spending 115 laps running in the top-10.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"I felt the power steering lurch coming off the corner and then it was like I had run into a giant rock or something. The belt came off and the engine went up in smoke. Until then, we had been running great all weekend. We were fast in practice and we had a great qualifying run. Then, we had a really good race car that was haulin' when we were in the lead or near the front. When we were back in traffic, it was really hard to pass - it's all about aero(dynamics) here - and it's tough when you're back in the pack. We were really, really fast early on, and we tried a strategy of taking only two left-side tires (on a lap 63 pit stop) and we dropped back on that run. But, once we were able to get back on our strategy and had four new tires, we climbed back up through there. We went from 13th to fifth place pretty easily. It was tough to pass, but I had a car that could get underneath people in the corners and then drive away from them. I can't say enough about how hard my guys worked to give me a car that could run in the top-five all weekend. When you look at this race in the history books, it will say we finished 34th, but we can't pout or get mad about that. We had a super car and another freak thing bit us. It's happened all season and it's a trend I'd like to change. As long as we keep doing what we've been doing, I'm gonna be proud of my team. This was the best car we've ever had here - which ain't saying much the way we've struggled at times - but it was a helluva lotta fun while it lasted."

Best Radio Chatter:

Dale Jr. made an aggressive move to pass Tony Stewart for the lead on lap 20. Soon after assuming the top spot, the yellow flag came out.

Dale Jr: "Heh heh. That was FUN."

Steve Hmiel (spotter): "That was fun to watch too..."

***

Shortly after taking the lead, Dale Jr. ran too low in turn two and wrinkled the left-front bodywork when running over the rumble strips on the inside edge of the track.

Dale Jr.: "I think the left front is buckled! I hit the rumble strips... (no immediate response) Can ya hear me?!"

Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "Yeah, it's turned under a little bit."

Dale Jr: "Talk to me here."

Eury Jr. : "Yes sir, it is bent in a bit, but we'll fix you up on the next stop. You're still three-tenths of a second (per lap) better than the the 20 car (Stewart)."

***

During the next yellow-flag period, after repairs were made...

Dale Jr: "I'll probably keep hitting it. Those rumble strips are made for the open-wheel cars - they're not made for stock cars. It's like hitting a two-by-four that's on top of the asphalt. I do it every year and I suppose I'll keep hitting them because I like being down there near the grass."

***

As he slowed on lap 135 and smoke billowed from the racecar...

Dale Jr: "It's blown up! A pulley came off or something. Or maybe the harmonic balancer - but it's done."

-credit: dei

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