Talladega II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Bud Team Wrecked Out Of Lead On Final Lap Junior finishes 23rd, Vickers Wins at Talladega Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the ...

Bud Team Wrecked Out Of Lead On Final Lap
Junior finishes 23rd, Vickers Wins at Talladega

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team led a race-high 37 laps and was in prime position for a potential win before a last-lap incident with Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers knocked Junior out of the lead and into a 23rd-place finish in the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday. The Hendrick combo -- running second and third behind Junior's Budweiser Chevy and eager for a stab at the win -- made contact with each other in their bid for the lead, and in doing so hooked Johnson's Chevy into Junior's, sending both into a wild wreck. Vickers, who initiated the contact, went on to win his first career Nextel Cup race. Kasey Kahne finished second and Kurt Busch third. Despite the finish, Junior gained ground in the Chase for the Championship, improving one spot to sixth in the standings and slicing the deficit to 106 points behind leader Jeff Burton.

Key Moments: Driving arguably the fastest car on the race track, Dale Jr. shook the dust off his 33rd-place starting position and was in the lead by the 40th circuit. He led four times through the first half of the race, but a flat left-front tire on lap 103 of 188 forced the Budweiser team into an unscheduled pit stop on lap 129, losing a lap. Coolly, Junior returned to lead-lap status with a "beneficiary" pass on lap 129, dodged a massive 13-car wreck on lap 137, and clawed back into the top-10 by lap 148. He regained the lead in a thrilling door-to-door battle with Kasey Kahne on lap 166, and maintained that position until the last-lap theatrics with Johnson and Vickers. Despite a wild spin through the grass, Junior was able to keep the car rolling and took the checkers in 23rd position.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"It was very smart on Jimmie's part to wait to the last lap to make his move. (Johnson and Vickers) had a good run coming at the end, and they got a good push together. I knew there wasn't much I could do. He went to the inside, and I tried to block a little bit, but once I understood he was there, I didn't push the issue any more, and the 25 turned him into me. I hate it for the 48, and I hate it for our team. We had a great car. It's just the way racing goes here. Sometimes you come out on the good end of those deals, and sometimes the bad. It's unfortunate we tore up our car. I really wanted to win today, but there's not much I could've done about it. Believe me, I tried to save it. It's frustrating. We had a great car. I want to thank Budweiser. My team is great. My guys are behind me, and we're going to try to win a couple races before this thing is over with."

Your thoughts on the championship:

"I don't really got any right at this moment. Not sure what to think. I know we were in a lot better shape with one lap to go than we are now, but it is what it is. We'll go race hard and have fun. I'm enjoying my team. I think we can still race hard and see if we can't close the gap a little bit. Something like this can happen to the next guy just as easy as myself. But I've got some people I'm pulling for if I don't win. (laughing)."

Best Radio Chatter:

After losing a lap due to a flat left-front tire, Dale Jr. continued running with the front pack, and in fact pulled away from the leaders when he bump-drafted Brian Vickers to a lengthy 12-car-length advantage. He would get the "Lucky Dog" Award and rejoin the lead-lap cars when the second caution waved on lap 129:

Dale Jr.: "Man, if I can bump-draft in the corners, I can take the leader and just constantly drive away from the field. It's weird. Haulin' ass! Me and Brian did it for three-quarters of a lap, and we put 12 car lengths on them, and I had to stop because we came up on a corner. (Long pause) Is it bump-drafting if I'm already pushing them getting in (to the corner)? Can I keep pushing them around, because I ain't bumping... I'm just pushing them around. Can someone find out whether that's OK? If I'm pushing them already and just don't turn 'em loose, is that bump-drafting? The grip is so good, I couldn't spin them out if I tried."

Steve Hmiel (spotter): "NASCAR doesn't know up here on the spotter's stand..."

Dale Jr.: " We haven't gotten a warning yet, and I don't think I've been too aggressive. This has been the most effective drafting I've seen in a long time. That's my personal opinion."

Tony Jr.: "Believe me Dale Jr., this whole deal is a blessing."

Dale Jr.: "I hear ya. I'm cool baby."

Tony Jr. "If the caution wouldn't have come out, we were going to be like four laps short (on fuel) and were going to have some major issues at the end of the race, so everything happens for a reason."

***

As pit strategy fell into place, the Bud Chevy had just enough fuel to make it to the end. Even so, the Brew Crew conserved as much as they could during cautions periods:

Tony Jr.: "Go ahead and put it into high gear (to conserve fuel). It's gonna be close, but we'll be all right."

Dale Jr.: "What if I cut the motor off on the backstretch and let it coast?"

Tony Jr.: "Nah, with our luck, the battery would go dead and we wouldn't be able to restart it."

Dale Jr. (having apparently already tried the trick): "Well it didn't! Hahaha!"

***

After bump-drafting Kurt Busch during intense green-flag action on lap 164:

Hmiel: "Dale Jr., we've just been given our first bump-drafting warning."

Dale Jr.: "Ten-four on that. Ten-four NASCAR."

-credit: dei

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Brian Vickers