Tony Stewart Wins at Atlanta, Dale Jr. Third Bud Team Leads 95 Laps, Dale Jr. Fourth in Chase Points Tony Stewart won for the second time in the first seven races of this year's Nextel Chase for the Cup, leading Jimmie Johnson across the ...
Tony Stewart Wins at Atlanta, Dale Jr. Third
Bud Team Leads 95 Laps, Dale Jr. Fourth in Chase Points
Tony Stewart won for the second time in the first seven races of this year's Nextel Chase for the Cup, leading Jimmie Johnson across the finish line at Atlanta Motor Speedway to win Sunday's Bass Pro Shops 500. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser car crossed the finish line in third place, inches ahead of his good friend and point leader Matt Kenseth. The strong finish, coupled with five bonus points for leading the race, moves Dale Jr. forward two spots in the Chase for the Cup into fourth place, 84 points behind the leader Kenseth after seven of the 10 races for the Cup. This is the highest points ranking for Dale Jr. since he was third after the Chicago race in July. The 95 laps led are the most of any race so far this year, and marks the sixth top-three finish of the season, and the 15th top-10 finish.
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 6th (which tied his best start of the year), wasted no time launching forward into the race lead in lap 11. The Bud car streaked away from the field easily, building a big lead before a vibration began to develop. The problem became serious enough that Dale Jr. made an unscheduled pit stop on lap 31. The stop dropped Dale Jr. one lap down in 41st position, but with new tires solving the vibration issue, the red No. 8 car rocketed back onto the lead lap under green flag conditions, passing the field to retake the lead on lap 63. Junior then ran among the leaders the rest of the afternoon, trading the lead in a sparkling sequence with Jeff Gordon, then showing strong speed early after each pit stop. The most dramatic moment took place late in the race, when a yellow flag flew on lap 305 (of 325) with Dale Jr. in third place. While the rest of the lead-lap cars made a pit stop for fresh tires, Dale Jr. stayed on the track. He managed to hold off the field with aging tires until Stewart took the lead on lap 316, and then Johnson passed Junior to take second place on lap 319. Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth finished the final lap side-by-side, with the Bud car taking third place by inches.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"That was like old times racing Matt (Kenseth) there. He's a good friend and I love racing with him like that. We don't get to do it as much now as we did in the Busch Series, but it was fun out there to race hard with him."
On the decision not to pit with 20 laps to go, while running third: "I was thinking 'surely we're not gonna pit,' so I pulled way up the track trying to be like 'yo! Everybody! No! Up here! Don't pit!' (laughing) And they just went on (to pit lane) and I wasn't in any position to go to pit road. I would have tore the left front off the car if I'd have pulled off the track at that angle. So, I was sitting there going 'Wellll... I guess I'm gonna have to do this by myself.' I wished I had fresh tires. I wanted to get tires if the leaders got tires. It was a long race and the duration of the race might have affected my decision-making there. I obviously wasn't as good as Jimmie (Johnson) and Tony (Stewart) and I didn't think I'd be able to hold 'em off. I hadn't anticipated holding them off - I wanted to finish fourth or better."
Best Radio Chatter:
The Bud car was very quick on each restart throughout the race, but was especially impressive when restarting in second place behind Tony Stewart on lap 178. Dale Jr. passed Stewart and then pulled away easily on the first green-flag lap after the restart.
Dale Jr. (excited): "It'll GO on the restarts!
Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "Yeah, that was a FAST lap!"
Dale Jr.: "I'll back it off a bit. I just wanted to show you what it could do."
Eury Jr: "You were one second quicker than the third-place car."
Dale Jr.: "I can do it flat out for about five laps, but it really hurts the right front tire. I'll back off."
Eury Jr.: "10-4. Run that pace and you'll be just fine."
The event sponsor - for no apparent reason - flew their hot air balloon directly over the front stretch during the race, which proved to be a huge distraction for the drivers.
Dale Jr. (on lap 232, during green flag action): "Someone get that hot air balloon outta here! It's annoying!"