Martinsville: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Junior Takes Fourth at Martinsville Battered Bud Car Survives Wild Day at Short Track Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the ...

Junior Takes Fourth at Martinsville
Battered Bud Car Survives Wild Day at Short Track

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team scored their second top-five finish of the season on Sunday, but this one took on special fervor. With his car beaten and battered from an accident on lap 2 and another on lap 315, Dale Jr. overcame stacked odds and a lot of traffic to finish fourth in the DIRECTV 500 at Martinsville Speedway. It is Dale Jr.'s sixth top-five in the last nine races at this half-mile Virginia short track, and it's his third top-10 finish in a young season that currently has him sixth in points. He is now just eight points out of fourth, and 109 points away from leader Jimmie Johnson. Tony Stewart won Sunday's event, holding off Jeff Gordon on a restart with three laps to go. Jimmie Johnson finished third.

Key Moments: Starting 19th, Dale Jr. drove all but two of the 500 laps with one-third of his front fender missing and most of his rear bumper mangled, as a multi-car incident on lap 2 left a gaping hole and considerable damage to the right-front fender and brake duct. The Bud team made seven pit stops during the first two cautions, not so much to repair the damage but to make it manageable. Despite all the time on pit road, the Brew Crew managed to stay on the lead lap, which set Dale Jr. up for a masterful drive through the field, going from 40th on the lap-21 restart to fourth by lap 270. A second accident on lap 315 when Ryan Newman squeezed Dale Jr. into the turn 4 curbing knocked the Bud team back to 18th. Junior sustained left-front fender damage , but still was able drive his way back into the top-five in 157 laps. Following a 20-minute red flag to clean up Matt Kenseth's wreck, the field was set for a three-lap sprint to the checkers, to which Junior passed Kyle Busch on the last turn to secure fourth-place.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"It was a fun race. We had a great car. I want to thank my Budweiser team. We beat on it pretty hard today, but it kept on coming back. I knew we were putting on a good show. I was happy we were able to get a top-five out of this. We had a winning car today, but I made a couple mistakes. We'll come back next week and try it again."

On finishing fourth despite all the damage:

"We had to work hard all day. That's probably the hardest we've had to work as a team throughout 500 laps. I'm so proud of my team right now. I can drive a good-handling car, and they gave me one all day long. Wow, what a pleasure it was to wheel on it! It drove great all day. It seems like no matter what I put it through, I couldn't hurt it. We bounced off a lot of things, and it just continued to drive great. My crew, to be able to cut everything off the car and get it back on the race track without getting lapped. Just a great job by them."

On the first accident on lap 2:

"Just chaos. That accident started happening about six rows in front of us, and we all just ran out of room. I got hit from behind, and I hit someone. Whoever I ran into, I ran into hard. That's pretty obvious the way it caved in my right-front fender. I was real concerned about what it would do to my brakes, because the brake duct came out. I guess we were fortunate that the hole in the fender was as big as it was, because it served as a natural brake duct in place of the one that came out."

On the incident with Ryan Newman on lap 315, in which the Bud car spun out and sustained left-front damage:

"My fault. You don't really drive underneath people in the middle of the corner like that, and I did. I was mad at the time, but really (Ryan) was just doing what he needs to do... I'm coming out of here with no issues. I might have gotten into a couple people, but we raced real hard today and I'm proud that we were able to maintain our temper after everything that happened."

Best Radio Chatter:

With the brake duct gone from the right-front wheel, there was much concern about the longevity of the brakes, which are crucial on this flat short track:

Dale Jr.: "Car was good right there, a little bit tight on the first part of the run, but doing fine afterwards."

Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "Ten-four."

Dale Jr.: "Brakes are getting low there, buddy. I had to quit running (hard) there."

Tony Jr.: "That's fine. It don't pay until the last 100, so just chill out when you need to."

Dale Jr.: "I need to chill until the last 50, I mean if I'm really wanting to save them. They're getting pretty far down there."

***

After two wrecks and a long day, Junior was back in the top 10 and wanting more as he prepared to make one of his final pit stops:

Dale Jr.: "I don't want to pit, but I can if I have to."

Tony Jr.: "Yeah, come on. I think everybody is going to come in, because this will probably be our last one."

Dale Jr.: "Alright, get me some stops, pleaaaasse! Bust your ass. I'm sorry about wrecking the car and all, but get me two spots here and I'll get the rest."

***

As the laps clicked down, the cautions picked up... perfect time for

Dale Jr. and team discuss the competition:

Tony Jr.: "Junebug, you're doing great. You've got 'em covered by two-tenths. Just keep doing what you're doing."

Dale Jr.: "Is anybody comin'?"

Tony Jr.: "No, everybody's staying out."

Dale Jr.: "Nooooo, I mean has anybody been comin' up behind me. Like now that we're going to be caught up (on a restart), is anybody coming behind me that I should be worried about?"

Tony Jr.: "There's only one person coming, and that's the 8 car. That's the only one that's moving."

***

During the 20-minute red flag period with seven laps to go:

Dale Jr.: "This has been a helluva race."

Tony Jr.: "Yeah, we've had a lot of drama at these races lately."

Dale Jr.: "Oh yeah, you've been getting your money's worth out of my ass, I can tell you that! I ain't overpaid!"

Tony Jr.: "Yeah, I think you need a bump after the last three weeks."

Dale Jr.: "I just wish I could just take a fifth. I want to try to get these guys, but after everything, I'd be happier than hell with a fifth."

Tony Jr.: "Yeah, we'll just see what happens here. That's nice, but I think you're probably better than them by a pretty good amount. Play your cards however you want to play them."

Dale Jr.: "It takes me awhile to get going -- either me or the car, one of the two."

Jay Guarneri (crew member): "Junebug, about four (cars) behind you there are NASCAR guys coming with bottles of water. They're at the 25 car right now."

Dale Jr.: "I can't get to no water. I can't get the bottle in here. I've got the Gatorade, baby. It's all good in the 'hood."

Hmiel: "I tell you what Tony Jr., Atlanta was fun, but this race here is a big feather in your cap. Junior has driven his guts out, you guys stayed on the lead lap when you could've been lapped twice. It's been fun. Let's see what we got here."

Dale Jr.: "Hey, I drive like this all the time! Y'all just can't tell as much on the big tracks."

-dei

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Tony Eury Jr.