Johnson Win, Dale Jr. 22nd at Martinsville
Late Spin Spoils Solid Afternoon for Dale Jr.
Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway on an afternoon where the point leader at the start of the afternoon, Jeff Burton, suffered engine problems and finished 42nd. Burton's early exit has now made the Chase for the Nextel Cup an incredibly tight affair, as the top-eight are now less than 100 points apart and Matt Kenseth is the new leader. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team were poised to gain significant ground in the point standings until a spin in turn three on lap 478 (of 500) dropped Dale Jr. from seventh position to the back of the lead-lap cars. Dale Jr. was able to gain several positions in the waning laps, but finished the afternoon in 22nd place. The finish drops Junior one spot in the standings, falling from fifth to six place, 94 points behind Kenseth, with four races remaining this season.
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 7th, climbed steadily forward at the start of the race, reaching second position on lap 58. The Budweiser team remained in the top-five until a pit stop on lap 245 dropped them to 19th place. A yellow flag on lap 281 propelled them back into the top-three once again, until making a pit stop on lap 401. Restarting 13th, the Bud car moved forward again until reaching seventh place. Becoming frustrated with the stagnating position, Dale Jr. made a very aggressive move inside of Kasey Kahne on lap 478, but locked the rear brakes and spun going into turn three. The spin dropped the red no. 8 car to 25th position, and Dale Jr. was able to gain only three positions before the checkered flag fell.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"That was my mistake. I was tryin' too hard. I felt like we were quicker than (Kasey) Kahne, so I was anxious to get all I could and get around him. I was under him but the rear brakes locked and the wheels started hopping and I spun out. We had a great car and we had something for 'em all except for the 48 (Johnson). It got down the end of the race and I got greedy. I can't blame it on nobody but myself."
Best Radio Chatter:
Running quickly but cautiously early in the going, Dale Jr. and Tony Stewart made heavy contact on lap 218 while running in heavy traffic.
Dale Jr: "I didn't know he (Stewart) was there! Tell him I'm sorry."
Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "The car looks OK. A little body damage, and he may have gotten into the tailpipe. Your tires are fine - all the yellow letters are still there."
Dale Jr: "Tell Tony I'm sorry. I looked in the mirror before that and he was a few car lengths back. I didn't know he was there."
Steve Hmiel (spotter): "I talked to his spotter. He's cool. He didn't mean to jump inside of you there - he saw how much trouble you were having with the 07 (Clint Bowyer) car."
Eury Jr: "The 31 (J. Burton) broke. He's in the garage, so we can really have a big points day today. Think big picture here."
Dale Jr.: (half joking) "Damn, Tony Jr., that's not like you to have your head so into the game. Keep telling me about the points all day. Ya need to be vocal. Keep my head in it. I wanna race ya know. so you gotta keep me focused on the big picture."
Hmiel: "Tony (Stewart) surprised himself jumping in there."
Dale Jr.: "Ha. I was about to do some real work there. I was having a good ol' time."
Under the yellow flag on lap 448, running seventh... and major foreshadowing...
Dale Jr: "We should be alright here."
Eury Jr,: "You'll be great..."
Hmiel: "Big picture, June. Big picture."
Dale Jr.: "I know. But I wanna get all I can get."
Hmiel: "We're riding with ya..."
Followed by another yellow flag two laps later...
Dale Jr: "I'm better than the 9 (Kahne). Tell him to get aggressive! Get on it! Get around that 24! If he doesn't, I'll move him outta the way and then he can follow me through."
Hmiel: (after Dale Jr. pulled alongside and gestured at Kahne): "Did you get his attention?"
Dale Jr.: "I want him to go! I dunno if you told Kale (Kahne, Kasey's spotter)."
Hmiel: "I'm standing right here by him..."