Stewart Leads Earnhardt Jr. Across Atlanta Finish Line No. 8 Budweiser Team Grabs First Top Three Tally of Young Season Tony Stewart won for the first time this season, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team in second...
Stewart Leads Earnhardt Jr. Across Atlanta Finish Line
No. 8 Budweiser Team Grabs First Top Three Tally of Young Season
Tony Stewart won for the first time this season, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team in second place in today's MBNA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The action-filled race featured a battle among many of the young stars of NASCAR as Stewart and Earnhardt Jr. jousted at the front of the field with third-place finisher, rookie Jimmy Johnson, Matt Kenseth (fourth) and others youngsters like Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman. The second-place finish is the best of the season for the Budweiser-backed crew, and marks their first top-10 finish in the first four races. The red No. 8 car led the race five different times for 38 laps.
The Key Moment: Dale Jr., starting third, ran among the top 10 throughout the entire 325-lap race. The 27-year-old Earnhardt Jr. took the lead for the first time on lap 57 and then traded the lead with Stewart five times between laps 80 and 97. Several slower-than-usual pit stops dropped Dale Jr. back into the field as far as 10th place on lap 214. The Bud crew saved their best stop of the day for their final, critical stop on lap 282. A 13.36-second stop propelled them into a position to win the race in the final 40 laps. Like earlier in the race, Stewart and Earnhardt Jr. streaked away from the rest of the field, running in tandem for the final laps. Dale Jr. was able to close on Stewart, but was unable to make a pass for the victory. The second-place finished launched Dale Jr. from 25th in points into 14th place after four races.
Dale Jr.: "At the end of the race, I was able to catch Tony - we were quicker than him in clean air, but once I got near his car, my car would get real tight and I couldn't get any closer. I found what I thought was a great line around the track - high in turns one and two and then low in turns three and four - but Tony saw what line I was working and he moved into the same line and made it almost impossible for me to make a move. When he's running the same line and not making any mistakes you just can't do anything to pass.
"I'm happy. We have always been fast here at Atlanta, but we always had strange things cost us a great finish. I guess you want to win and get greedy, but we had a great car from the moment we started the weekend until the last lap of the race. The guys in the pits made adjustments all day and so we were fast all day. There was never a time when the car wasn't strong, especially on new tires. We were able to really make some aggressive moves and pass a lot of people on those restarts. It was the best time to make your move because once the field gets spread out, everyone is a lot harder to get past.
"This is a fun track, a great place to race. I wish there were more multi-groove tracks like it. There seems to always be three or four lines in each corner, so if your car doesn't work down low, you can move around to find the best line for your car. It means the driver can make a bigger difference, and it means great passing and great racing. It's fun for the driver and I'm sure it's fun for the fans."
Best Radio Conversations
When the team made a pit stop on lap 259, it created a situation where they would be approximately 0x00bd-lap short of finishing the race with the fuel in the car.
Tony Eury (crew chief): "Watch your fuel take it easy."
Dale Jr. (half-joking) "Awwwwwwwww God dang it. Not THIS again! That's like putting the weight of the world on my shoulders. That's a lotta pressure guys. If we run out of fuel, I look like an ass because I didn't breathe the car enough. I just want to run wide-ass open."
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief, with slight hesitation) "You should be OK"
Dale Jr: "Y'all don't sound so sure! C'mon now If it means I'm going to run out - let's pit now. Let's get a splash of gas. Should we stop? I mean, I'm in it with ya - whatever you want to do, I'm in. But, I hate to be the guy with all the pressure on me."
Tony Jr: "Didn't we just have a big meeting about all of us guys with big shoulders?"
Another yellow flag on lap 281 allowed all of the teams to pit again, sending the fuel mileage concern out the window.
On lap 300, Dale Jr. was in third, following Stewart and Ward Burton.
Dale Jr. (reporting on the car's handling to Tony Eury Jr.): "It's a little tight, Junior"
Tony Jr: "Then think LOOSE..."
With less than 20 laps to go, it became a two-car shootout as Dale Jr. closed in on Stewart.
Tony Jr. "Good lap there. You're closing about a tenth (of a second) per
lap. Keep doin' what you're doin'"
Dale Jr. (irritated) "Alright. Alright. Quit talking to me. Just let me concentrate here. Let me work on him (Stewart). I can catch him, but we're tight so it'll be really hard to pass him." With 10 laps left in the race, Dale Jr. reached over and turned his radio off.
No. 4 for No. 8
"Driver #8," Dale Jr's behind-the-scenes look at his rookie season, has risen to No. 4 on the New York Times Non-Fiction Best Seller list for this week. It is the book's highest sales ranking yet after six weeks on the prestigious list. <pre> Today's Stats Started: 3rd Finished: 2nd Money Won: $104,800 Points Position: 14th Laps Led: Five times for 38 laps. Best Pit Stop: Lap 282 / 4 tires and Fuel / 13.36 seconds (Seventh stop of the day)