Richmond: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

No. 8 Budweiser Team gets sixth top-three finish of 2003 Joe Nemechek won Saturday night's rain-shortened Richmond 400, grabbing his first victory of the year. Bobby Labonte was second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team...

No. 8 Budweiser Team gets sixth top-three finish of 2003

Joe Nemechek won Saturday night's rain-shortened Richmond 400, grabbing his first victory of the year. Bobby Labonte was second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team in third. The race ended after a rain delay on lap 393 of a scheduled 400 laps. The Budweiser team has finished in the top-three in four out of the last five races, and six of this season's 11 races. Dale Jr. has now clawed to within 20 points of the NASCAR Winston Cup points lead, trailing only Matt Kenseth.

The Key Moments:

Starting third, Dale Jr. ran easily in second or third position until taking the lead on lap 140. The race was slowed by rain at that point, and each of the teams along pit lane began trying to out-guess Mother Nature, some gambling that the race would end soon after the halfway point. When rain showers slowed the field again on lap 210, the Bud team opted not to make a pit stop, but when another yellow flag fell on lap 225, they made a stop for fuel and tires, dropping them out of the top-three for the first time, falling to 15th position. The final 150 laps were marked by a seemingly endless series of yellow flags, as Dale Jr. improved his position gradually until getting to second place on lap 363. With a car that was best on longer runs, Dale Jr. was unable to hold off Labonte in the battle for second place.

Over the course of a 36-race season, small moments can turn out to be fairly significant in the race for the championship. Tonight's moment came on lap 299, when the car of Jack Sprague spun out, then, after coming to a stop, very nearly t-boned the Budweiser car as Sprague swung wildly back onto the track. Somehow, Dale Jr. managed to avoid contact, and was able to continue to a third-place tally.

Dale Jr's Quotes:

"Wait! (to his team, who were trying to push the No. 8 car back to the garage) I want to look this thing over... (laughing) I wanna see all the tire marks and damage on this thing! That was some wild racing out there."

"It's another great race for the team. They give me a fast car every week and I just need to keep it up near the front. The car wasn't perfect, but we were really strong on long green-flag runs. With fifty (laps) to go, I really thought I had something for the 25 car (Nemechek), but all of the yellow flags hurt us. Our car seemed like it would do something different on every restart in the last 100 laps. One time it would be loose, then it would be tight. We just needed a long run there at the end..."

"I really had fun racing with Bobby (Labonte). He's a gentleman and we have a lotta fun racing each other because we respect each other and race hard, but clean. I really didn't run very hard early on because I knew we had a good car, but I was concerned about getting the lead to get the five bonus points. I tried to save the car, and we just kind of rode in second and third-place for much of the night. When it came down to the end, we didn't have enough for the 25 car on all of those short little runs of three laps or six laps or however long between each caution.

Best Radio Conversations

Jerry Nadeau suffered serious injuries in a crash during a Friday afternoon practice session. Concern for Nadeau created a more subdued, somber tone for the Budweiser team's radio chatter during the race.

When rain slowed the race near the mid-point, Dale Jr. became concerned when NASCAR prepared to restart the race on lap 157.

Dale Jr: "As far as this drizzle goes, they (NASCAR) need to look at it really close with the sealer on this track. The moisture kind of beads-up on that sealer surface, and I don't think I want to try to run hard up out of the groove into or off of the corner."

A consistent mist continued to fall until it was raining strong enough to throw a yellow flag on lap 210. With the race beyond the halfway point, it could be called official if the rain stopped the race for a significant time. Fearful of giving up third position by pitting, the team scanned a series of radar images on the internet via a wireless connection in their pit area.

Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "I think we need to think about taking four (tires) here and plan as if we're going to run all night (the full distance)."

Dale Jr.: "Huh?! No! I'm staying out. The car's good, but what's the weather going to do?"

Tony Jr: "I have been looking at the radar on every computer in this pit area. I can't get one that's fast enough or accurate enough to tell. I can't get a reading close enough to tell you what's going to happen. The radar looks like it should be raining now, and then raining big time in 50-60 laps. But it also looks like it's kind of circling around Richmond."

Dale Jr: "What about the radar in the big red (NASCAR) truck? If we could get somebody that could look at that stuff and know what's happening, I'd trust you guys more on that stuff... It's raining pretty hard here on the back stretch."

Tony Jr: "Alright, we're staying out. We've got sixty laps of fuel left, so we're going for it."

Here are the Numbers, All of the Numbers (Well, most of 'em anyway...)

--- Dale Jr. has finished in the top-three in four out of the last five races.J--- Dale Jr. has six top-three finishes in 11 races so far in 2003.

--- The finish tonight ties a team record of five consecutive top-10 finishes.

--- The No. 8 team has finished in sixth-place or better in eight of the last nine races.

--- In the last 11 Winston Cup races on short tracks (one-mile or less), Dale Jr. has eight top-five finishes, more than any other driver.

--- In eight career Winston Cup starts at Richmond, Dale Jr. has six top-10 finishes.

--- The Bud team has led eight of the 11 races so far, leading the most laps in three races, and scoring more bonus points (55) than any other team.

There's only one thing cooler than Dale Jr., and that's being the Designated Driver. On second thought, there is a second thing that's cooler, and that's the King of Beers internet site at: www.Budweiser.com. The recently revamped smooooooooth site offers the latest and coolest in music, sports, games, Dale Jr. stuff and beer!

-dei/budweiser-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Joe Nemechek , Jerry Nadeau , Jack Sprague , Tony Eury Jr.