Bristol: Dale Earnhardt Jr. race report

Busch earns first victory, Earnhardt Jr. fourth; No. 8 Budweiser Team leads most laps, grabs third consecutive top-four finish Kurt Busch secured his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory this afternoon at the Food City 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor...

Busch earns first victory, Earnhardt Jr. fourth; No. 8 Budweiser Team leads most laps, grabs third consecutive top-four finish

Kurt Busch secured his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory this afternoon at the Food City 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team led four times for 181 laps and finished fourth. Busch, in his second year of Winston Cup racing, led the final 55 laps and held off Jimmy Spencer and Ricky Rudd at the finish of the 500-lap race for his first win. This is the second week in a row that the Bud team has finished fourth after starting 23rd, and it is the third consecutive top-four finish for the team. The dominating run for Dale Jr. (including 10 bonus points for leading the most laps) gained him four positions in the point standings to sixth place after six of 36 races.

The Key Moment: Dale Jr., starting 23rd for the second week in a row, had a fast car from the start, climbing easily into the top 20 in the first 50 laps, and then taking advantage of an aggressive pit strategy to take the lead for the first time on lap 84. Avoiding trouble on the small half-mile oval is key, and Dale Jr. managed to side-step accident after accident through the middle segments of the race, leading easily at times, and enjoying the benefits of five consecutive pit stops of less than 14.5 seconds each. With 90 laps left in the race, Dale Jr. led Busch and Spencer when the 13th yellow flag of the day flew. The Bud team chose to pit for four tires, while Busch and eight other cars on the lead lap chose not to pit. Dale Jr. rejoined the race in tenth position, and was able to slice and dice his way past six cars to gain the fourth place finish. The red No. 8 car finished the race in spotless condition, but was damaged on pit road following the event when an angry Robby Gordon slammed it from behind.

Dale Jr's Quotes: "I'm happy - a top-five and our first-ever good finish at Bristol. This has always been a really tough track for us we had finished on the lead lap only once before. (Their previous best was a 14th place finish last August.) We've got a week off, which is great- so we can think about these great finishes at tracks where we've never done well before. Now, we can look forward to going to tracks where we've always been strong - like Texas, Fontana, Talladega We left here last year with our tail between our legs (31st place finish/ 26th place in points), but we're really coming on strong this year. The guys were awesome on every stop - we were the first ones out nearly every time."

"We needed to make that pit stop (with 90 laps to go) because we didn't feel like the car was as good as it had been earlier. We didn't believe the car or that set of tires was fast enough to win if we didn't stop. We were great all day on fresh tires, so that was why we came in. I restarted 10th, and made my way past a lot of guys who had older tires, but we ran out of laps."

About the damage done by Robby Gordon following the race: "I don't know what the hell he's doing. He was a moving chicane all day. He was a lap down and he held us up early in the race. I had to move him over a bit then (on lap 148) because he was holding us up and we were beginning to overheat. Then, he slid in front of us on the restart with 15 laps to go and held us up again. I was trying to catch the 28 car (Ricky Rudd) and he's in our way. I feel bad for my guys who have to fix all the damage - we had finished the race with a clean car."

Best Radio Conversations
Dale Jr. avoided the carnage that usually prevails at the small Bristol track, with the help of spotter Ty Norris. The high speeds and tight conditions force a driver to be aware of a massive amount of action in front of and around him. As if driving at such break-neck speeds is not enough, the driver must also be aware of an immense amount of additional race information. Following the first yellow flag of the day, Norris asked if Junior had seen the accident ahead of him.
Ty Norris (spotter): "Good job, man. Did you see that one, Junior?"
Dale Jr: "Yeah. They just showed it on the Jumbotron" (referring to the gigantic video screen on the inside of turns three and four)

Late in the event, Dale Jr. had raced his way from 10th to fourth place, and was closing in on the top three cars as well as some lapped traffic on lap 461.
Ty Norris: "Great! Great job. Now - the 55's (Bobby Hamilton) next. The next position right in front of you."
Dale Jr: (correcting Norris with the correct number of the third-place car that was nearly a straightaway ahead.) "No. The 28 (Rudd) the 28 is next."

Because they were working on a pit strategy that was different from other early race leaders like Tony Stewart and Jimmy Spencer, the Bud car had not been matched with those cars on the race track all afternoon until all of the lead lap cars pitted on lap 283. A stop of 13.58 seconds put the red No. 8 out first, followed by Stewart and Spencer.

Ty Norris: "Great job guys. We're out of the pits in first place."
Dale Jr: "Now we're gonna find out how good we really are. The car seems to be getting a little better each time we stop."
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief) "The 20's (Stewart) pretty good, but otherwise, we're the one to beat. Should just be you and Tony"
Dale Jr: "Alright then. I'd be satisfied if they just decided to end the race now. We'll take it Naw, we'll be good here. Good job today guys - the car is great and the stops are good. There's no substitute for fresh tires out here"

Today's Stats
Started: 23rd
Finished: 4th
Money Won: $87,850
Points Position: 6th
Laps Led: Four times / 181 laps (Bonus points for most laps led)
Best Pit Stop: Lap 283 / 4 tires and Fuel / 13.58 seconds (Fourth stop of the day)

What a Difference A Year Makes
Following a 31st place finish in this race last year, the Bud team sat in 26th place in Winston Cup points. The team rebounded after Bristol, grabbing three victories and an 8th place finish in the points at year-end. This season, after six races, the team is on a roll, grabbing three top-four finishes in a row for the first time in their brief Winston Cup career. They now sit in 6th place - an improvement of 20 positions. Going into the next race at Texas, they are 41 points out of second place.


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bobby Hamilton , Tony Stewart , Jimmy Spencer , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Tony Eury Jr.