Johnson Wins Pocono, Dale Jr. Holds Lead in Points; No. 8 Budweiser Team Gain League-Leading 11th Top-10 in 14 Races Jimmie Johnson joined Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the only three-time winners in this year's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, as Johnson won...
Johnson Wins Pocono, Dale Jr. Holds Lead in Points; No. 8 Budweiser Team Gain League-Leading 11th Top-10 in 14 Races
Jimmie Johnson joined Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the only three-time winners in this year's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, as Johnson won today's Pocono 500. Johnson was able to hold the lead in the final 26 laps despite a seemingly endless series of yellow flags. The race ended under the caution flag, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team in sixth place. For the second week in a row, the Bud team struggled early in the race, but gained their fourth consecutive top-10 finish by playing ideal pit strategy and by narrowly avoiding several crashes. Dale Jr. is now 58 points ahead of Johnson in the point standings, holding the top spot for the seventh consecutive race. He has finished sixth or better in seven of the last eight races.
Key Moments: In almost a replay of last week's surreal race at Dover, Del., Dale Jr. dropped positions early in the event, falling as low as 26th position, then narrowly avoided going one lap down when a yellow flag came out on lap 113 after Mark Martin's engine expired. When the next caution flag fell again on lap 121, the Bud team made a timely pit stop and climbed into the top-10. After making their last pit stop on lap 162, it appeared Dale Jr. and the No. 8 team were among only a few cars with enough fuel to finish the race without stopping again, but a series of six back-to-back caution periods allowed Johnson and many of the rest of the top-10 to stretch their fuel mileage to the finish.
Dale Jr. Quotes: "That's another good finish -- but not one I'm really proud of. The way we ran was not very competitive. We got better and better through the day as Tony (Eury) Jr. made small adjustments on each stop. We've gotta keep working on being competitive -- to get better. This is the same tire we struggled with at Vegas (the team's only DNF of 2004), so I feel like we're getting better with it. Right now, I don't feel like this was a championship effort on our team, we just weren't competitive until late in the day. Those Hendrick cars (winner Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Brian Vickers) have found something, and we need to find out how to keep up. They were all a half-second better than anybody else all day today."
About finishing the race under the yellow flag: "Me, personally? I didn't need any more green flag laps. I would have lost a position or two. NASCAR is an easy target right now, but they did what they had to."
Best Radio Chatter:
The car of Ward Burton spun out immediately in front of a hard-charging Dale Jr. on lap 50. Junior was able to avoid making any contact with Burton's car.
Dale Jr.: "I never touched him!"
Steve Hmeil (spotter, filling in for Stevie Reeves): "10-4. You never touched him."
Dale Jr: "Roger. I feel sorry about that. I had a run on him on the inside and I might have got too close."
Hmeil: "No, not too close. His spotter is here and he's (Burton) not even yellin.'"
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "Good avoidance there. They're just showing the replay."
Dale Jr.: "Yeah. I waited for him to go high or low and he just stayed right there... but I still feel responsible. I got right up there close and got him loose."
Late in the race, as yellow flags multiplied like amoeba, Junior found himself battling with Terry Labonte for sixth place under the brief green-flag segments.
Dale Jr: (to his spotter) "Tell Terry I was wanting him to go by, but I didn't want to cost myself a lot of time by letting him by. I know he was faster than me, but I didn't want the guys behind him getting a run at me as well. I'm better than the 97 (Kurt Busch), but I'm too tight to pass... (pause, then referring to the engine failure of the Dale Jarrett car immediately in front of him): "Somebody blew up and I about wrecked it. That was a big ol' mess of oil there. They finally threw the yellow..." (another pause) "I like Terry a lot, and I don't want him to think I was blocking him."
Hmeil: "10-4. He totally understands. I'm right here (with Terry's spotter)."
Dale Jr: "Ya know, he's in the last three or four years of his career and I don't want Terry to go out with me on a bad note..."
Points: 1st (no change)