Jeff Gordon Wins at Sonoma, Dale Jr. is Comeback Kid No. 8 Budweiser Team Match Career-Best at California Road Course Jeff Gordon won Sunday's Save-Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway near Sonoma, California. Jamie McMurray was second, followed by...
Jeff Gordon Wins at Sonoma, Dale Jr. is Comeback Kid
No. 8 Budweiser Team Match Career-Best at California Road Course
Jeff Gordon won Sunday's Save-Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway near Sonoma, California. Jamie McMurray was second, followed by Scott Pruett in third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team were among the fastest cars on course all afternoon, but were forced to come back from two spins to finish 11th, tying a career-best finish at Infineon. This is the first time Dale Jr. has led a race at Infineon, heading the field for nine laps. It is his 13th finish of 11th or better in the first 16 races of 2004. Dale Jr. remains in second place in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings, trailing Jimmie Johnson by 27 points. Matt Kenseth is third in points, trailing Dale Jr. by 232 tallies.
Key Moments: Starting 20th, Dale Jr. spent the first segment of the race taking it easy, until he caught a curb and spun into the wall on lap nine, dropping him to 40th position. When a yellow flag finally came out, Dale Jr. was able to limp the No. 8 car to the pits for two lengthy pit stops. The Bud crew managed to straighten the front wheels enough for Dale Jr. to run lap times equal to the top three cars. Dale Jr. improved at least one position every lap for 19 of the next 20 circuits after the restart, eventually taking the lead on lap 37. He held the top spot until making a pit stop on lap 46. The stop dropped him to 26th place for the restart, but he was sent spinning again on lap 50 when PJ Jones slammed the Bud machine from behind. With the race nearly half over, Dale Jr. was forced to make another hard-charge, climbing from 32nd to 11th at the finish.
Dale Jr. Quotes: "We had a great car today, a top-five car easily. But, I wasn't a top-five driver. I spun it out early on, which was bad because I was really trying to relax and take it easy. I knew we had a great car and all of a sudden I slid it into the wall and knocked the tow-in (wheel alignment) out of place. We were able to almost fix it on those pit stops, and even though it was torn up, it was still really fast. Once the pit stops cycled around, it was great to take the lead and just kind of take off - hit my marks and get my rhythm going. It takes awhile to find that. Then I got taken out on that restart and we had to pass everybody again. The yellow car with the grapes on it just planted me and I couldn't hang on. We fought back, but it wasn't where we should have finished. It was a lot of beatin' and bangin' goin' on out there."
Best Radio Chatter:
During the first caution flag period of the race on lap 3.
Dale Jr: "Alright... we're good. I was just takin' care of the car -- it's good. Boris (Said) threw a block on me and I had to really get on the brakes, and that's why a couple of guys got past me. That's when Robby (Gordon, last year's race winner) got by."
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "No problem. That 31 car (R. Gordon) is usually pretty good here. You can follow him through the field."
Dale Jr: "Nah -- I'm faster than these guys, I'm just takin' care of my stuff. The 31's not even keeping up -- he's sliding the rear end all over the place."
After Dale Jr. spun and hit the wall on lap nine:
Dale Jr.: "The steering wheel is almost upside down in here, so be ready for that when I come in. The wheel's turned at least a quarter-turn. The car really pushes like (mad). I had the wheels turned to the left when I hit the wall on the driver's side, so that's what is. The car just wanders down the straights."
While trying to re-establish the rhythm of laps in the low 1-minute, 17-second range (equal to race leader Jeff Gordon), Junior received an unwanted distraction:
Tony Jr. "Just keep doin' what you're doin'. Just hit your marks... That last lap was a 17.09..."
Dale Jr. (abruptly): "Hush UP!... (long pause) damn it!"
Finished: 11thJPoints: 2nd (-27 points to the leader )
Best Pit Stop: Pit stop number four of four / four tires and fuel / 14.55 seconds