Jeff Gordon won the Subway 500 Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, giving him a sweep of both races and both Bud Poles this season at the half-mile Virginia oval. Jimmie Johnson was second, followed by Tony Stewart. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team finished fourth, giving them four consecutive top-five finishes at Martinsville. Dale Jr. led the race twice for 61 laps, and ran among the top three positions for the vast majority of the 500-lap grind. The team chose to make a pit stop on lap 405 to change tires, dropping them to 12th place. A series of yellow flag laps impeded their progress back to the front of the field in the final 95 laps. This is a career-best 12th top-five finish of the season for Dale Jr. and the Bud team. They have also scored 19 top-10 finishes, marking their most consistent season yet since joining the Winston Cup series full-time in 2000. Dale Jr. has now led a total of 920 laps this season, and has led in seven consecutive races.
The Key Moments:
Dale Jr. started third, and ran among the top-three for the first 107 laps. After a pit stop, they dropped to eighth, but needed less than 20 laps to regain the top-five. Dale Jr. took the lead for the first time on lap 148, holding the top spot until the team's next pit stop on lap 180. While running in second place on lap 230, a yellow flag closed the pit lane, which re-opened after the top-three cars had passed the entrance to pit lane. With older tires, Dale Jr. managed to take the lead again on lap 246, holding off the charge of Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton. The red Bud car remained in the top three until a pit stop on lap 405. While the remainder of the top-10 remained on the track, the Bud team opted to pit for fresh tires, dropping them to 12th position for the restart that came nearly 25 laps later. With less than 75 laps remaining, Dale Jr. gouged and nudged his way to a fourth place finish.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"We do well here, and I like this track, but we just can't figure how to win at this place. We've been in the top-five four straight times and the top-10 five races in a row here, but we can't seem to get that final little push to win. We were running second when we decided to make the last pit stop (lap 405) because we had a terrible set of tires. There was no way were going to be able to stay up there or have any chance to win unless we came in and took that junk set off. It was the only chance we had. Then, we had a hard time getting through lapped traffic and didn't have enough green flag laps to come back. Whoo-- that was some good, hard racing with Ryan Newman and Tony (Stewart). I was much quicker than Ryan, and I must have hit him 50 times, and he just held his ground. Once I was able to get by him, I was trying to catch up to Tony, but we just didn't have enough laps. That's fun, hard, tough racin'. "
About not pitting on lap 230:
"We had no chance. NASCAR needs to get these rules figured out. The drivers are all confused, and I think the officials were confused there too. Since they have all these new yellow-flag rules since Dover, they've told us the pits would be closed the first time by under yellow, but for some reason, they waited until the first three cars went past and then opened the pits. We were able to get into the lead on the restart, but I was irate. That could have cost us the race there. My guys work too hard to let a call like that take us out of contention for the win. I know it hurt the 97 (Kurt Busch) and the 29 (Kevin Harvick) too."
Best Radio Conversations Who says race drivers don't have rhythm?
Dale Jr. (during Friday's practice session, following a minor change to the rev-limiter chip in the ignition system of the Bud car) "Go back to the other chip. I need that chip to stay the same. I need to hit the chip every lap, every corner, so I can be exact. I need to hit it each time so I know when and where I need to get off the gas.. If it doesn't do that every time I can't be consistent every lap..."
During a yellow flag on lap 136, running in second place...
Dale Jr.: "I'm trying to get my five (NASCAR awards five bonus points for leading the race), then I'm gonna take it easy. It's real tempting to not kick somebody's (butt) out here. I'm getting some bumps and scratches on this car. It'll have a real story to tell after the race..."
During a yellow flag on lap 176...
Dale Jr: "Do you think the car handles like it does because the (air pressure in) the front (tires) builds faster than the rears?
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "Maybe we'll drop the pressure in the fronts. We'll see what happens..."
Dale Jr.: "I don't wanna see what happens. I just wanna win..."
Before the restart on lap 427 after making a stop to change four tires, dropping from second to 12th...
Dale Jr. : "I hope this set of tires is better than that last set...."
Tony Jr: "10-4. This is the best set in the garage."
Dale Jr. : "I'm gonna need every bit..."JTony Jr: "Don't worry about the brakes or anything. Just let it eat... you'll have 75 laps to go..."
Inside Winston Cup: Look for Dale Jr. in 'the Hot Seat' on Monday night's edition of "Inside Winston Cup" on Speed Channel.
Reality: The unblinking eye of MTV will follow Dale Jr. through the Atlanta race weekend for an upcoming episode of "Diary," the reality/behind-the-scenes/week-in-the-life-of-a-celebrity documentary series... Also, mark your calendar with a Sharpie for Tuesday evening, Oct. 28, when VH-1 debuts "All-Access; NASCAR," a reality/behind-the-scenes/weekend-in-the-life-of two drivers and a visiting rock-band documentary... (Dale Jr., Tony Stewart and 3 Doors Down...)
"This is NASCAR. When has reality ever had anything to do with it?"
Darrell Waltrip, 3-time Winston Cup champion, pundit, Fox-TV analyst