Rockingham II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Kenseth Champion, Bill Elliott wins race, Dale Jr. 13th after yellow flag woes No. 8 Budweiser Team records career-best at the Rock Matt Kenseth finished fourth today at the Pop Secret 400 at the North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, but...

Kenseth Champion, Bill Elliott wins race, Dale Jr. 13th after yellow flag woes
No. 8 Budweiser Team records career-best at the Rock

Matt Kenseth finished fourth today at the Pop Secret 400 at the North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, but he became the 2003 Winston Cup Champion with one race remaining. Bill Elliott won the race, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Jeremy Mayfield. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team were among the fastest cars all afternoon, running in the top-five until making a pit stop one lap prior to a yellow flag on lap 243, putting them one lap behind the leaders. The unfortunate timing was duplicated later in the race on lap 369, when the No. 8 team pitted as the yellow flag flew again. Despite falling two laps behind, Dale Jr. and the team finished 13th, a career-best mark at the Rockingham oval. Johnson's second-place finish moves him into second-place in the Winston Cup point standings, 38 points ahead of Dale Jr. in third.

The Key Moments:

Dale Jr. started 26th, and wasted little time climbing through the field, sliding into the top-15 in less than 20 laps. After the first two pit stops, Dale Jr. made two heroic/miraculous/lucky moves to barely avoid accidents ahead of him, which allowed him to gain a top-10 position after 128 laps. With another set of fresh tires, Dale Jr. climbed to fourth position on lap 170, then rode there until the fateful pit stop on lap 242, followed one lap later by a yellow flag. The team climbed back into the top-10 again, but lost another lap under similar conditions when the yellow flag came out as the Bud car was entering pit lane. Despite finishing two laps down, it is the best Winston Cup finish for Dale Jr. and the team since joining the tour in 2000.J

Dale Jr. Quotes: "Congratulations to Matt and Robbie (Reiser) and those guys. Unless you're out there fighting with 'em every week, you don't appreciate how tough it is to do what they've done. They've had a great season. Matt and I have been through a lot together, so if I can't win it, I'm happy to see him get it. He's a great driver and I'll tip a cold Bud to him when I get home tonight."

"I don't know what to think about our day. I'm angry we were 13th, but I'm happy we finally found something that worked at this place. We've never been competitive here in the past, but we were easily a top-three or top-five car today. Man, I was so happy to have a car that I could really drive. We lost a lap on that yellow flag deal, then we had one set of bad tires where I was outta control every lap. Then, we lost another lap when we came in the next time. The last segment of the race, I think we were easily faster than anybody but the 9 (Elliott) and the 48 (Johnson). I restarted on the inside lane, but I let the leaders go because I didn't want to get in their way with so few laps left."

"I'm happy that we tested here twice this year and we found some things that meant we were able to run with the leaders. Even when I was coming up through traffic, my guys gave me a great car, and I could stay on pace with the leader. I really hadn't pushed it hard or really raced anybody until we lost the lap. This was like a final exam, the last remaining track where we didn't have a clue, and I think we overcame that today. Now I'm not so sure I'm as happy as I was before we'll only race here once next year..."

Best Radio Conversations The team ran strong all afternoon, until a yellow flag immediately after a green flag pit stop dropped them one lap behind the leaders who had not yet made a pit stop.

Dale Jr: "Guys, I'm sorry about that. I couldn't hang onto the car any longer. Those tires were shot. If I could have just saved the tires a little better or held on a little longer, we'd be up front. It got so bad as I went down the back straight, it'd try to turn me to the right, it wanted to climb up the wall offa turn two..."

Tony Eury Jr. (car chief) "We're OK. We're only one lap down... we aren't too bad..."

Dale Jr.: "Guys, I'm really sorry, but I think if you look at the right rear, you'll see my point."

Tony Jr.: "It's alright. It looks like the left front and right rear were pretty worn out..."

Dale Jr: "I just think it's me. Every time I scream 'I need to pit!' at this place, a damn yellow comes out. When I scream 'I need to pit!' the next time, tell me to shut up and just suck it up..."

During the final yellow flag period, with less than 15 laps to go...

Dale Jr: "Guys, I'm pretty satisfied with how we ran today. (Half joking) My car's pretty good if (Tony) Jr. wasn't so lazy and gave me that bad set of tires..."

Tony Jr: "I think my stuff was pretty good all day, especially if my driver would quit whinin' after 70 laps on a set of tires. If he woulda been able to run 80 laps, we'd be up front and I wouldn't have had to change so many sets of tires..."

Dale Jr: "Well, I'll be satisfied with how our car ran..."

Tony Jr: "We learned a lot. We learned some things we can use next time we come back here..."

Correction:

Last week we reported the No. 8 Bud team had led 10 consecutive races, when it was actually nine consecutive races... The team has, however, led 24 races this year, more than any other team.

Nothing's better than a cold Bud at the end of a long day. Unless you drink one while logging in to www.Budweiser.com for all of the latest Dale Jr. news, games, music, short films and more! Your race team. Your beer. True.

Below are select Dale Jr. quotes from Thursday's Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain on SPEED Channel.

Earnhardt on taking control of his career:

"Early on, I was just really busy and didn't know what direction I was going from one day to the next. I was being pulled and tugged in so many different ways, that I didn't have any idea what I had accomplished or where I was headed or what my future held for me. Over the last three years, my big thing has been to get more control over where I'm the guy that you come to get the answer. Instead of somebody else pushing the buttons for me, I'm pushing all my own buttons and that really helps out. That way, I know where I'm at and where I'm going -- I can have a yes or no answer for everything and that's the final answer."

Earnhardt on new attitude toward safety equipment:

"I'm ashamed to admit it, but I should have been a little more about making changes and been a little more open-minded to the new things that were coming into the sport, but I was very bull-headed about it and very selfish about putting new safety equipment into my car. ... I was running a lot of older style headrests that we've been running over the last couple of years. And after the (Dover) crash, I went into the shop on Monday and the crew, mainly Tony Eury Sr., and Tony Jr., were already installing the newer stuff without even asking me. That was kinda the wake-up call that you gotta quit thinking about yourself because there are a lot of people that care about you and depend on you. It meant a lot to me that they were making those changes for me because I was so bull-headed, thinking 'I don't need that stuff. I'm out there and my car is as safe as anybody's.' And it really wasn't."

Earnhardt on evolution from Busch champ to Winston Cup contender:

"When we moved from the Busch Series, we were a dominating Busch Series team, and when we moved to the Cup Series, we were able to put together a few flash-in-the-pan wins and some great moments, but we had a lot of things about our team that were obsolete -- personnel, it may be an individual, it may be the way you prepare the car, it could be a number of things. And it takes all those things -- I know you've heard time and time again, it takes the right people. Not necessarily the right 'good' people, but the right personality to mesh with this other personality. ... One of the big things is having good morale. Everyone goes to work looking forward to it, you've got friends their and you enjoy it. That's what we've obtained this year -- a friendship amongst all of us."

Earnhardt on living in his father's shadow:

"I definitely am my own person and want to be appreciated for my own stuff and my successes. I kinda don't like being measured up to my father 'cause everyone knows how good he was. It would be hard for any driver to be compared to that man. But there is a part of me too, that will always want that close to me - always want that right next to me wherever I go and whatever I do, even if it's not racing."

Earnhardt on why he dons his helmet before getting into the race car:

"It's not really a superstition, it's just the way I've always done it. I feel like you suit up before you go to battle. ... and with the Hutchens device that I wear, it's a lot easier for my guys to hook the Hutchens device up and make sure it's hooked up properly and make sure none of the hooks are attached backwards or anything like that."

Earnhardt on best racing advice he ever received from his late father:

"It was real hard to get any advice from him or help from him when it came to racing, whether it be set-ups or anything. But there was one day, here at Rockingham, that I took my first provisional in my rookie season. I was just all to pieces and I couldn't believe that we had run so poorly and that I had nothing to look forward to as far as the race. The car wasn't working and I thought I was going to be an embarrassment. That was the first and only time that he ever said anything to me about a race car or anything to do with racing. He said, 'Look, there are going to be bad days and there are going to be good days ... tomorrow, whether you win or lose, you're going to have another race the next weekend and you're going to have another race the next weekend. You've got to be able to maintain and control your emotions as far as that goes.' I was just letting it eat me up inside ...I guess I was more worried about what he thought, and maybe that was the biggest problem with it. And when I knew that he was alright with it and that he understood that his son wasn't always going to be at the top or maybe this isn't going to work out all the time, it made me feel a lot better about the deal."

Earnhardt on whether teaming with Richard Childress is in his future:

"I want to drive race cars as long as I am healthy and I enjoy it and that could be for a very long time ... I don't see an opportunity to drive for Richard. I feel like my loyalty belongs to DEI - what we've built up over the last several years and what we've put into that company. All the money and all the effort my father put forth for years to make that happen, I feel like my loyalty belongs there and I'm going to stick it out."

Earnhardt on future as a team owner:

"I feel like it is a huge interest of mine and I feel like I would be very good at it. I think I've got a pretty good eye for talent -- not only driver-wise, but who could run each department."

Earnhardt on pressure to win a Winston Cup championship:

"I feel like that is a legitimate goal and I feel like I should be able to win a championship in the duration of my career ... it's a goal I set for myself. I'd be very disappointed if I ended my career without a championship."

...and to settle a bet with a producer, "What was the last music you listened to before coming on the show?" The answer: Boston's Greatest Hits.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott , Matt Kenseth , Jeremy Mayfield , Jimmie Johnson , Tony Eury Jr.