Atlanta II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Busch takes rain-shortened Atlanta race; no. 8 Budweiser team grab another top-five finish. Kurt Busch was in front when it counted, as rain ended the NAPA 500 prematurely Sunday evening. Busch was in the lead when the checkered flag came out on...

Busch takes rain-shortened Atlanta race; no. 8 Budweiser team grab another top-five finish.

Kurt Busch was in front when it counted, as rain ended the NAPA 500 prematurely Sunday evening. Busch was in the lead when the checkered flag came out on lap 248, instead of the scheduled distance of 325 laps. Joe Nemechek recorded a season-best second-place finish, followed by Dale Jarrett, points leader Tony Stewart and the No. 8 Budweiser car driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fifth. It is the fifth consecutive top-10 finish for the red-hot Budweiser team, and it pulled Dale Jr. into 11th place in Winston Cup points, his highest position since the race in Fontana in April. Dale Jr. is now less than 50 points out of the top-10 with three races remaining. The Bud team led the race twice for four laps, and took home a top-five finish for the fifth time in the last 10 races. They have now amassed a career-best 10 top-five finishes in 2002.

The Key Moments: Dale Jr. and the Bud team started 13th for the third time in four weeks (based on Winston Cup owner's points) as Mother Nature washed out Bud Pole qualifying yet again. It took Junior only 12 laps (and a three-wide pass) to grab a top-10 spot, but the race was stopped for a lengthy rain delay soon after. When the race resumed, under continually threatening skies, the Bud team chose to come to pit lane to fill the gas tank on the No. 8 car, dropping them to 36th place when the race went back to high-speed action on lap 45. With the fastest car on the track, Dale Jr. gave a clinic on passing, as he zoomed into the top 20 by lap 69 and then into the top 10 by lap 87. It was lap 96 when Dale Jr. took the lead, before pitting two laps later. Because of the seemingly inevitable rain, it was a strange race of strategy geared to race toward the halfway point rather than the full 500-mile distance. Even while battling traffic, Dale Jr. remained the fastest, but mired in traffic, he was unable to challenge again for the lead until lap 204, when he sped past Tony Stewart. The following pit stop was a slow one, and it dropped him to 15th place, where he again mounted a charge to the front. As the rain began to fall harder and harder, Dale Jr. was in a fierce battle for third place with Dale Jarrett and Stewart, including a three-wide blast through turn two on the final green flag lap when the rains finally made the track too slippery to continue.

Dale Jr's Quotes: "How 'bout that!? Another top-10... that's five in a row for this team. It makes me proud of my guys. Yeah, we had some problems in the pits that dropped us back a couple of times, but the car was almost always the fastest one out there. There were times I could pass guys wherever I needed to - but we fought with track position while trying to out-guess the rain. I like this place (Atlanta) a lot, and we seem to always really run good here. I think we're gonna win one at this place sometime soon, and then look out! If we really get it figured out, we may do like we did at Talladega - win three or four in a row.

"It's a great track and it seems like there is an endless combination of grooves you can run. If this thing had gone all the way to the end, we would have been right there. The car was great after about 10 laps on new tires. Up until then, it was a handful, lemme tell ya... Then, on the last pit stop, Tony (Eury) Jr. made an air pressure adjustment that made it a rocket right away. If we could have run longer, we would have been tough to handle. It was time to stop the race though. It was way too slick to be out there like that."

Best Radio Conversations
Because of the stop-start nature of the rain delay and the change in strategy-racing the weather instead of the competition - most of the chatter on the radio took place after the race had been slowed to a crawl by the rain. Dale Jr. talked about the three-wide race for third on the final green flag lap. Dale Jr. momentarily held the position, but slid on the wet track and fell back to fifth.

Dale Jr.: "Damn! I wanted those spots! We're faster than those guys - you guys (the team) know that - and I really wanted those spots! I was under the 88 (Jarrett), but I was gonna knock the whole left side offa his car if I had stayed in it... Wow... the rain is really getting hard now. It's bad. Let's call this race right here, right now.

Tony Eury Sr. (crew chief): "I think the fastest car just finished fifth... You were bottoming out in turn one..."

Dale Jr: "Yeah, it's rainin' bad there."

Tony Sr: "No... bottoming out!"

Dale Jr: "Yeah! Yeah! Everybody does. It wasn't too bad though. I would just hit for a split second."

Tony Sr: "From here, once it got dark, it looked like a campfire behind you every lap!"

Dale Jr: (laughs) "Hell yeah! Shootin' flames! Where's the "Flames" button in here?!?... Hey - y'all were fantastic all weekend here. We had some things that were uncomfortable for me in practice, but we worked through 'em and you guys did really good. We had a great car today and I'm proud of you."

Tony Eury Jr: "It's good day for us - a good points day too." Dale Jr: "Yeah! I wanna get a top-seven or -eight finish in points. That's asking a bit much, but that's what I'm aimin' for."

Dale Jr. also received some encouragement from Tony Eury Jr. when he was bringing the Budweiser car to the pits before the first rain delay. Tony Jr: "Come in this lap. It's wet down here - it looks slick, so be careful. I mean don't be a granny - but come in nice and smooth..."

Today's Stats
Started: 13th
Finished: 5th
Points Position: 11th (gained one position)
Money Won: $97,950
Laps Led: 2 times for 4 laps
Best Pit Stop: Lap 98 / Stop #3 of 5 / 4 tires, Fuel / 14.61 seconds


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Tony Eury Jr.