Johnson Wins Richmond, Heartbreak Hotel for Dale Jr. Bud Team Strong Again Until Blown Engine with Six Laps To Go Jimmie Johnson won for the second week in a row, taking the victory at Saturday night's Chevy Rock and Roll 400 at Richmond (Va.)...
Johnson Wins Richmond, Heartbreak Hotel for Dale Jr.
Bud Team Strong Again Until Blown Engine with Six Laps To Go
Jimmie Johnson won for the second week in a row, taking the victory at Saturday night's Chevy Rock and Roll 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Tony Stewart was second while rookie David Ragan was third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team carried a special Elvis Presley paint scheme in the night race, and were in the middle of a scintillating race for second and third place in the final 60 laps, running two- and three-wide with Jeff Gordon and Stewart until the engine blew on the white Bud car with six laps remaining in the race. The engine issues dropped them from third to a finish of 30th place. It is the team's sixth "Did Not Finish" (DNF) of the season, tying their mark for the most DNFs in a single season. The finish also seals their fate on the outside looking in for this year's Chase for the Nextel Cup - as they remained 13th in points following 26 races. Only the top-12 drivers qualify to race for the Championship in the final 10 races.
Dale Jr., starting 21st, struggled to gain positions in the early going, then fell further back to 25th place after being pinned in their pit stall on a lap 25 pit stop. From that lap onward, it was all pointing ahead in the field, as Dale Jr. passed car after car, climbing 12 spots before their next pit stop. Quick service by the Budweiser team gained three more positions, and the Bud/Elvis machine was rockin' and rollin' into the top-10. The car was still less-than-perfect and the driver was less-than-pleased until some major adjustments were made on the next pit stop on lap 133 (of 400). Starting 17th, Dale Jr. passed three cars on the first green flag lap, then two on the next before launching back into the top-10 on lap 149. He climbed into the top-five in lap 214, and stayed among the leaders the rest of the night until the exasperating engine expiration on lap 394. The final 60 laps were among the most exciting racing of the season, as Junior raced side-by-side with first Jeff Gordon and then Tony Stewart for second place while Johnson streaked ahead to the victory.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"I'm really sad for my fans, but especially for my team. If you knew how hard they have all worked this year, and to run as well as we have, it breaks my heart. We've been a top-five car and a top-five team almost every week and yet we struggled with engines that wouldn't get us to the finish line. Tonight is just another example of the roller coaster season it's been. (Crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. really worked hard tonight and did a great job making adjustments to the car. We were no better than a 10th-place car for the first half of the race, but he kept hard at it and made adjustment after adjustment and suddenly we were a car that could have won the race. I really felt like if I could have gotten around Tony I think we could have made a run at the lead there in the last laps. But that was great racing. I had so much fun racing those guys so hard and so clean at the end. I hope the fans enjoyed it as much as I did in those last 50 laps because that's as hard and clean as anyone can race.
"I have a lotta pride - and I think the whole team has a lotta pride - in how well we ran and how hard we competed and that's gonna be the same in the final 10 races. We're not gonna give up - we're gonna go out there and have fun and laugh and try to win races. Maybe we'll be a spoiler in the final races. When that last lap is completed at Homestead (the final race of the year), I want everyone to know we all worked hard and we did all we could to race hard and never gave up. I want to go out (at Dale Earnhardt Inc.) with integrity and that means never letting up."
Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr. climbed into the Bud/Elvis special before the race while it was parked alongside a pit box that was being sprayed with a strange fruity-smelling liquid of some sort. (Teams spray all kinds of concoctions on the pavement inside their pit box to make the maximum traction for the cars and the crew members as they service the car...)
Dale Jr: "What did you guys put in here?!? It smells like a stripper..."
Dale Jr. struggled with the car in the early going, but really lit up when the handling improved. The race was red-flagged twice to clean the track following multi-car accidents, and Junior discussed his car during the first red flag on lap 244 while sitting in second place to Jeff Gordon.
Dale Jr: (to the crew): "I need a lil' bit more racecar and I can win." Tony Eury Jr: "10-4. We'll work on it for you."
Jeff Hammond (on the team radio while announcing for DirecTV Hot Pass): "Junior, I don't know if I've seen you drive this hard before.... How will you get by the 24 car (J. Gordon)?"
Dale Jr. : (joking - perhaps) "You should have been watching my whole career. I've always driven hard! We're gonna keep on tryin,' and we're so close to havin' a car that can win. If I get by the 24, we can stay there. We'll run away with it and we won't have to worry about that..."
The car was fast, but vibrated badly under heavy braking. To try to help the situation, the team would remind Junior to turn off the brake fans during caution periods and then back on before going green...
Eury Jr: "Stayin' out."
Dale Jr: "Yes, sir."
Eury Jr: "Brake fans off, Dale Jr.."
Dale Jr: "I can remember that but I forget to turn 'em back on if you don't remind me. We need to look into that though. I don't think that's what the problem is."
Eury Jr.: "Yeah, you've been hard on 'em (brakes) all night. All four rotors were glowing red early on."
Dale Jr: (surprised/alarmed) "Why didn't ya tell me that?!?!"
Eury Jr: "Because you were doin' good. And the last time I seen that with you, you went out and beat Mark Martin and won the Busch race (in 1999)."