Michigan II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Mayfield's Mileage Makes it at Michigan, Dale Jr. 18th No. 8 Budweiser Team Leads Late, then Pits for Fuel Jeremy Mayfield grabbed his first victory of the 2005 season Sunday at the GPS Marketplace 400 at Michigan International Speedway,...

Mayfield's Mileage Makes it at Michigan, Dale Jr. 18th
No. 8 Budweiser Team Leads Late, then Pits for Fuel

Jeremy Mayfield grabbed his first victory of the 2005 season Sunday at the GPS Marketplace 400 at Michigan International Speedway, taking the lead for the only time with six laps remaining while the other lead cars pitted for fuel. Scott Riggs also made the most of his fuel mileage, scoring a career-best second place while Matt Kenseth finished third in what had been the day's most dominant car. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team ran among the top-10 for much of the day, and took the lead with less than 10 laps remaining but were forced to make a late pit stop for a splash of fuel. The stop dropped the Bud team to the 18th spot at the finish. The finish drops Dale Jr. one position to 16th in Nextel Cup points, 158 points behind 10th position with three races remaining before the Chase for the Cup.

Key Moments: Starting 16th, the Bud team gradually crawled forward in the field, eventually getting into the top-10 on lap 83 (of 200). For the next 110 laps, Junior was in the midst of exciting, furious and often three-wide racing, moving as high as seventh place and dropping as low as 12th until the leaders began to make stops with twenty laps remaining. Even with superior fuel mileage, the Bud car was unable to make it to the finish without making a stop while leading on lap 192 for a splash of fuel. The late stop dropped them back into the field, and were able to make up five positions before the checkered flag fell on lap 200.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"It's damn frustrating. I hate fuel mileage races where the fastest car doesn't win. We had a car that at a couple of points in the race was nearly perfect. It seemed like there were only a few laps when I wasn't racing with somebody. That's a helluva lotta fun to run three-wide with a lot of these guys, but it leaves you with a sick feeling knowing that once you make that last stop, you're just hoping the guys in front of you keep running out of gas."

"We got better and better all afternoon, but we really began to struggle with the last set of tires (on a lap 144 pit stop). It got tighter and tighter and then it got really, really bad at the end. It was almost like we might have had a spring go away from us or a shock go bad... it was so bad at the finish."

Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr. wasn't his usual chatty self on the radio during the race, but became frustrated and animated when he had to back up to get out of his pit stall after being blocked-in by the car in the stall in front of him.

Dale Jr.: "Man, I'm sorry about that. I got in (to the pit stall) too deep."

Steve Hmiel (crew chief): "No problem. You did what you had to do to get around the 16 (Biffle) car and then had no room to get around the 37 (Raines) car."

Dale Jr: "Yeah, I was trying to help the 16 by coming in deep, but it's a good thing I got a fast pit crew to get me outta there."

The same issue recurred later in the race as the Bud team moved into the top-10.

Dale Jr: "Damn, I'm terrible today gettin' in there. I just about hit that tire carrier (on the 16 crew)."

Hmiel: "Naw man, you're OK. He was way out there with those tires."

Dale Jr.: "But it's good pit stops like you guys are givin' me that win races, but we're not able to take advantage of it if we can't get in or out of the stall."

Hmiel: "You're OK, June."

Dale Jr.: "It's about time to start bustin' heads if they don't start stopping short."

As the race neared the 300-mile mark, Dale Jr. battled back-and-forth with the No. 11 car of Terry Labonte despite former Cup champion Labonte being a lap behind.

Jimmy Kitchens (spotter): "Hey Junior, Terry's spotter says he's sorry for racing you so hard there, but he was fighting for the lucky dog spot."

Dale Jr.: "If it's Terry in there, he's earned the right to do that. He's OK. But, if it was one o' them young boys in there doin' that, they'd have to re-cog-nize... You tell Terry that was an honor racin' that hard with him."

-dei-

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Series NASCAR-CUP