Phoenix: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Jeff Gordon Wins Phoenix, Dale Jr. 19th Bud Team Runs Among Top-10 Until Late Caution Jeff Gordon won a NASCAR Nextel Cup race for the first time at Phoenix International Raceway Saturday night, but more significantly scored his 76th career win,...

Jeff Gordon Wins Phoenix, Dale Jr. 19th
Bud Team Runs Among Top-10 Until Late Caution

Jeff Gordon won a NASCAR Nextel Cup race for the first time at Phoenix International Raceway Saturday night, but more significantly scored his 76th career win, tying the late Dale Earnhardt for sixth in all-time Cup career victories. Gordon grabbed his first victory of the season, extending his lead in the Nextel Cup standings, and then honored the late Earnhardt by carrying a "3" flag around the track after the win. Tony Stewart finished second while Denny Hamlin was third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team ran among the top-10 positions for nearly the entire race (and 278 laps among the top-15) until a yellow flag fell on lap 283 (of 312), only five laps after the team had made their last pit stop. The untimely caution dropped the No. 8 to the tail-end of the lead lap, and Dale Jr. managed to stay ahead of the leaders to finish 19th. Despite the disappointing finish, Dale Jr. moved up three positions in the Nextel Cup standings, and is now 15th after eight races, 56 points out of 12th place. This is the fifth time in the past six races the Bud team has improved in the point standings despite a run of unfortunate luck.

Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 15th, took only seven laps to jump into the top-10 and then stayed among the lead pack for nearly the entire race. As the first race for the new Car of Tomorrow on a track of one-mile in length, most of the top teams were nearly equal on lap times, which made passing a rare and very difficult task. After each pit stop, Dale Jr. struggled with a car that didn't want to turn in the middle of the long Phoenix turns, but seemed to get better and better as the long runs continued. Running as high as sixth place, the night could have taken a dramatic turn during pit stops on lap 212, as Dale Jr. and the car of Ryan Newman made contact exiting pit lane. However, the damage was minor, and Dale Jr. was able to remain in the eighth position for nearly the entire run until his pit stop on lap 278. The yellow flag came out five laps later, trapping the Bud car at the very end of the lead lap, where they stayed until the checkered flag on lap 312.

Dale Jr. Quotes: "I'm really disappointed for my team. They worked had and they deserved a top-10 finish. We made the decision to pit (on lap 283) and try to gain some track position on the cars ahead of us by running on fresh tires, but when that last yellow flew, it really wiped out that strategy. We didn't lose a lap, but we were on the tail end of the lead lap so all I could do for the last 15 laps or so was run as hard as I could and stay ahead of 'em.

"I could see the leaders almost the whole race, and it was like we all were just out there running the exact same lap times. It was a parade. I was bored. No one could pass anybody else - we were all equal it seemed. No one has really figured out how to make the Car of Tomorrow turn in the center of the corners- and we struggled with that all night. For us, it was push, push, push... plow, plow, plow... (Teammate) Martin (Truex Jr.) could put his front tires down on the apron to make his car turn, but I never even came close. My car wouldn't even look down there. I was asking it to - 'c'mon! Just get me to the apron. Just give me a peak...' but I couldn't get it to cooperate.

"Congratulations to Jeff (Gordon, on his 76th win). He's a class act - and I'm happy for him. I ran over to Victory Lane to shake his hand and let him know. I know a lot of fans of my dad's aren't the biggest Jeff Gordon fans, but he and my dad were business partners on a lot of things and worked together a lot more than most people realize. I saw him with the flag on the big screen. That's cool - they must have had that thing around for a lot of races."

Best Radio Chatter:

The Bud pit crew gained the team several positions on their second pit stop on lap 99.

Dale Jr.: "Good job! Good job!"

Steve Hmiel (spotter): "Nice stop guys."

Dale Jr: "Hey - how many laps is this race?"

Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "312."

Dale Jr.: "312?"

Eury Jr: "10-4."

Dale Jr.: "I dunno why I can't remember the laps of these races..."

Hmiel: "That's OK. You've only got so much computer room in there. You need to save it for the important stuff..."

Dale Jr.: "Ha. Yeah..."

***

After running behind Kevin Harvick for 40 consecutive laps with a consistent margin of approximately seven-tenths of a second:

Dale Jr.: Hell! We gotta be running the same lap times!"

Eury Jr: "Pretty close... that last lap was a good one..."

Dale Jr: "Yeah, I can't help it..."

After the yellow flag on lap 283 ended a chance for a top-five finish, driver and team tried to remain positive:

Dale Jr: "Who wrecked that guy?"

Eury Jr: "Looks like he wrecked himself going onto pit lane and slid across the track into the wall."

Dale Jr: "Damn. I worked hard today. (Expletive.) We'll get what we can get. Was our fuel mileage that bad?"

Eury Jr: "We'll get after it here. Get what ya can. We stopped a little early to try and get track position, but we would have been caught on pit lane anyway because we would have run out of gas on lap 284."

-credit: dei

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman , Denny Hamlin , Tony Eury Jr.