Rusty Wallace won the Pepsi 400 this afternoon at Michigan International Speedway, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled to a 31st place finish after starting the race from the Bud Pole position and leading the first 13 laps. Father and car owner...
Rusty Wallace won the Pepsi 400 this afternoon at Michigan International Speedway, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled to a 31st place finish after starting the race from the Bud Pole position and leading the first 13 laps. Father and car owner Dale Earnhardt had a better day, finishing sixth and staying close to points leader Bobby Labonte, who finished third. A third Earnhardt, Dale Jr's brother Kerry, started his first Winston Cup race, but lasted only six laps before sliding into the wall.
The Key Moment: So many bizarre and unfortunate moments haunted Dale Jr. and the Bud crew, it's tough to mention them all. After a great start from the Bud Pole position, Dale Jr. led the first 13 laps, and then ran among the top five until Tony Stewart spun while side-by-side with the No. 8 Bud Chevy. Only a dramatic avoidance move by Dale Jr. prevented him from being swept up in the Stewart crash.
Following that incident, Dale Jr. fell back like Chinese water torture: dropping methodically spot-by-spot-by-spot with an evil-handling car. The car was so bad, the team opted to make pit stops on consecutive laps (laps 78 and 79), dropping Dale Jr. to 35th position. It was a strong run from there as he moved up 22 spots before again dropping back into the field.
On lap 178, Earnhardt spun through the infield grass trying to avoid Robby Gordon, who had crashed ahead of him. The spin dropped him one lap behind the leaders until the engine on the No. 8 car went sour with 11 laps to go, and he was able to merely limp home to the finish.
Dale Junior's Quotes: About avoiding Tony Stewart's crash: "I saw him outta the very corner of my eye. You don't know how close that was! I saw him get loose and I knew where his car was going to go, so I just had to drive it hard up the track. That was one of those moments when you feel like you almost have eyes in the back of your head. You just react. That was close - that was wildâ€¦"
"It was great to get the pole. We need to get that momentum back. We have a few new guys on the crew, and it's a great way to get them started by winning the Bud pole. The car was good early on (in the race) - we led pretty easily it seemed but then it just got tighter and tighter until it drove like a big ol' truck. It felt like I had wrecked it or damaged a fender - I just couldn't drive it into the corner. It just skated. I couldn't get on the gas as fast as everyone else."
About spinning out to avoid Robby Gordon: "It was a freak deal. Our spotter was changing batteries on his radio and all of a sudden I couldn't see anything in front of me. Just smoke across the track. I went low and got onto the grass and just spun out. Even after that, we passed all the other lapped cars but then the engine just gave up. It was still running - all the temperatures and pressures looked OK - but it had no power at all."
Pepsi 400 Race Notes
Bud Pole and "Other" Beverages
Dale Jr. and the Bud team won their second Bud Pole position of the season with a blistering average speed of 191.149 mph. Dale Jr. is the first - and only - driver to lap Michigan International Speedway at more than 190 mph in a stock car. It is the second Bud Pole of the season for the Bud beer bunch. They won their first at Charlotte in a race sponsored by another soft drink (Coca-Cola).
For the first time, three Earnhardts were in the starting field for a NASCAR Winston Cup race. Dale and Dale Jr. were joined by Kerry Earnhardt, who was making his first Cup start. It is the first time in 40 years that a father and two sons have taken a green flag together in Winston Cup.
The Point of It All
Dale Jr. remained 14th in Winston Cup driver's points, but Matt Kenseth put in another strong, steady top 10 performance to lengthen his lead in the Rookie-of-the-Year standings. After leading 13 laps, Dale Jr. has now led 378 laps in seven different races this season. They were the first laps the team has led since the race at Dover in early June.