Bowyer Wins First Cup Race, Dale Jr. 16th Bud Team Overcomes Mid-Race Spin to Finish on Lead Lap Clint Bowyer chose the right moment to grab his first Nextel Cup victory, as he dominated Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway ...
Bowyer Wins First Cup Race, Dale Jr. 16th
Bud Team Overcomes Mid-Race Spin to Finish on Lead Lap
Clint Bowyer chose the right moment to grab his first Nextel Cup victory, as he dominated Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Bowyer led 222 of the 300 laps after starting from the Bud Pole position, and scored the maximum amount of points in the first race of the 2007 Chase for the Nextel Cup. Bowyer is now fourth in points, only 15 points behind point leader Jimmie Johnson, who finished sixth. The top seven finishers were all among the 12 drivers competing for this year's title, including Jeff Gordon who finished second and Tony Stewart who finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team ran among the top-five positions for much of the afternoon, but a strategic gamble back-fired after a lap 165 pit stop, and Dale Jr. spun out on lap 180. While Dale Jr. did not make contact with anything, the spin proved costly for track position as it dropped the Bud car to the 25th position. The team spent the remaining laps trying to make-up the lost ground and finished 16th, the final car on the lead lap. Dale Jr. remained 13th in points, 41 markers ahead of the 14th-place driver. The team lead four laps during the event for five bonus points.
Dale Jr., starting 19th, needed only 16 laps to launch into the top-10, and then made a steady, gradual climb up the charts, finally reaching the top-five on lap 156. It was then that the team opted to make a lengthy pit stop for four tires and changes to the front shocks. After the stop, Dale Jr. restarted 16th, and then lost six positions after being punted by the 11 car of Denny Hamlin. Though he made a save on that lap, it was only a matter of three laps with debris on the tires for Dale Jr. to spin out. The spin dropped him further back in the field and the team made multiple pit stops to restore the handling and balance on the racecar. After the multiple stops, the team was on a different pit strategy than the rest of the field, and eventually took the lead on lap 246 before making a final pit stop on lap 252. Dale Jr. eventually ended the day in 16th place, the last car on the lead lap. All 43 cars that started the race were running at the end of the event.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"We might have talked ourselves into making too much of a gamble there. We were a top-five car, but we're here to win, so we made some pretty big changes on that (lap 165) pit stop. We figured if the race stayed green to the finish, we could make one more stop and take just two tires. That seemed like a great strategy. But, it meant we restarted way back in traffic and the car behaved like it was possessed. I'm kinda freaked out because I thought something was broke on the car. I just couldn't drive it - it was so loose it was like I was wreckin' every lap. I got pushed out of the groove eventually and that made it worse until I finally spun out. We changed some things back after that, and we were still fast but you can't make up that much ground on a track like this when it's so hard to pass. We dropped a lap behind at one stage after we spun, and we ran down and passed Bowyer under green flag conditions, so I feel like we had a car that was fast enough to finish in the top-three or top-five. I guess that's the gamble you take when you're trying to win..."
Best Radio Chatter:
Even before the halfway point of the race, Dale Jr. was thinking ahead to the finish, emphasizing how important track position was on a track that made passing difficult.
Dale Jr: "I want two tires on the last pit stop, even if there's 100 laps to go..."
Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "10-4. We'll do that."
Dale Jr: "How was our lap times there?"
Eury Jr: "You were as good or better than the 24 (J. Gordon) and the 48 (J. Johnson)... the 07 (Bowyer) is in a class of his own. He and the 20 car (Stewart) are a tenth (of a second) or better a lap. That 07 is the class of the field."
After spinning on lap 180...
Dale Jr: "It was so loose I can't control it! I was spinnin' out every lap from the center (of the corner) off. We might have had a flat tire, I dunno."
Eury Jr: 'Come on in and we'll put four (tires) on."
Dale Jr.: "Something's messed up in the front end! Somethin' wicked! Something must be broken!"
Eury Jr.: "Is it under braking?"
Dale Jr: "Something's wrong. I dunno what it is. It won't go off into the corner. It's real bad! On a scale of one to 10, it's (messed) up!"
The most surreal segment of the race took place beginning on lap 272...
Dale Jr: (alarmed) "Is that a bag of ice on the track!?!? It looks like a full bag of ice was thrown out onto the front straight!"
Eury Jr: "Alright..."
Dale Jr. (narrating on the next lap) "OK, I'll tell ya where it is....right... uh, it's gone now! It looked like a full bag of ice!" The team chuckled quietly and some wondered if the fumes had gotten to their driver or if he was seeing a mirage... until after the race. Upon pulling up to the team's transporter, it was clear that a plastic bag was stuck to one of the air intakes on the nose of the Bud car. A bag like many teams use to hand ice to their driver during pit stops...