Atlanta: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Budweiser Team Rallies To 3rd-Place Finish at Atlanta First top-five of season for Dale Jr. and Brew Crew Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the ...

Budweiser Team Rallies To 3rd-Place Finish at Atlanta
First top-five of season for Dale Jr. and Brew Crew

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team scored their first top-five of the season on Monday, racing to a third-place finish in the rain-delayed Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It is Dale Jr.'s eighth top-10 in the last 10 races at Atlanta, and it catapults him four spots to seventh in the Nextel Cup point standings (20 points out of fifth, 156 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson). Junior's finish came despite a punctured tire 115 laps from the end, which dropped him to 32nd position. But he responded with a hard charge to the front, passing everybody but race-winner Kasey Kahne and second-place finisher Mark Martin. Kahne led 85 of the 325 laps and held off Martin in a side-by-side duel with 15 to go to take the victory. Jeff Gordon finished fourth behind Earnhardt, and Tony Stewart fifth.

Key Moments: Starting 26th, Dale Jr. raced his way into the top-10 on two separate occasions -- the first on the initial green-flag run and the second after a severe loose condition dropped the Bud Chevy back to its original starting position. But the biggest setback of the afternoon came on lap 210 when Junior reported the right-front tire going flat. In sixth place at the time, Junior was forced to make an unscheduled, green-flag pit stop that sent him plunging to 32nd position, one lap down to the leaders. Junior quickly returned to lead-lap status when Clint Bowyer's spin brought out the seventh caution. With 100 laps remaining, the Bud driver hastily charged from 29th to 10th in just 53 laps, using the high line to perfection and turning lap times quicker than the leaders. He found his way into the top-five with passes of Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton with 20 to go, and reached third when Matt Kenseth and Robby Gordon made pit stops for fuel.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"Great effort by the Bud team. It was a lot of hard work. This has always been a great place for us, but we had to dig pretty deep for this one after the tire went down. It was pretty crazy driving up through there, but my guys gave me great pit stops, a great car, and we were able to come out of here with a top-five. We definitely had a hard day. With 100 laps to go we were outside the top 30, so I was happy to get all that back and take home a third-place finish. I've always liked this place. It's one of my favorite tracks. (Crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. called a great race, gave me some really good adjustments, and got (the car) handling good. I could make some passes, which was great.

"We were real good on long runs. I don't think we had anything for the two guys in front of us, and honestly I was glad the caution didn't come out at the end, because I was more concerned holding down third place. I didn't think we had anything for Mark or Kasey, and I was starting to lose the handle in my car. But this is still a really good day for us. This probably puts us back in the top 10 in points, which is where we want to be. We still have good tracks ahead of us, and I'm really having a good time driving these race cars."

Best Radio Chatter:

Having just fallen from sixth to 26th because of a severe loose condition in the car, Junior felt a sense of urgency with bad weather threatening the area. The Bud team continuously monitored the radar to determine if the race would be cut short:

Dale Jr.: "Are my lap times pretty good?"

Tony Jr.: "About four-tenths quicker than anybody out there."

Steve Hmiel (spotter): "Tony Jr., check your weather. We don't want to give him bum information and have him wear his stuff out trying to get to the front to beat the rain."

Tony Jr.: "(Rain) is coming, but it looks like we've still got awhile before it gets here."

Dale Jr. (having just raced from 23rd to 10th in 26 laps): "Don't worry, I'm not really running that hard."

Hmiel: "Damn! Well, you just cleared the ninth-place car, Mr. I'm-Not-Running-That-Hard!"

***

The Performance Racing Network patched in to the Bud team's radio channel during the sixth caution to interview Dale Jr., but the transmission from the booth was obscenely LOUD through the Bud team's earphones:

PRN: "Dale Jr. this is PRN can you talk?"

Dale Jr.: "Yeah."

PRN: "Junior, it looks like as the race goes on, you're getting better. Is that the case?"

Dale Jr.: "Yeah that's the case. We just got real loose on that one run and fell back pretty far. Luckily we got a caution and worked on it, and we got it pretty fast right now. We can run them down big time at the end of a long run..."

PRN: "Looks like you're fairly comfortable racing on a Monday afternoon."

Dale Jr.: "Well, I would've rather had the day off, but that was yesterday, so we'll take it any way they come."

PRN: "Alright, thanks a lot Junior!"

Hmiel: "Hey June, if they call back again, I'll make sure they get that radio turned up real good."

Dale Jr. (laughing): "Yeah, could you do that? I couldn't hear 'em real well. Haha!"

***

Three laps after a lap-197 restart, Dale Jr. reported a major problem:

Dale Jr.: "I might have a flat tire. (Pause) It's hitting the ground real bad. The steering is all over the place."

Tony Jr.: "I see what you're talking about. Do what you have to do, man. Come in if you have to."

Dale Jr. (two laps later): "It's bad. I have to come in."

***

After the green-flag pit stop on lap 213:

Tony Jr. (looking at the tire): "Dale Jr., we had a hole (in the tire)."

Steve Hmiel: "Tony Jr., did you say we had a hole?"

Tony Jr.: "Yessir, the right-front tire was definitely going flat."

Dale Jr.: "Thank God! I didn't want to be wrong. I'm sorry. I couldn't drive it any more."

Tony Jr.: "You did awesome. You're the only one who can tell that, so always do what you think you need to do. You did good." Hmiel: "Right there, June. You're in the lucky dog spot. Hang in there and we'll get our lap back."

-dei

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Robby Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Mark Martin