Budweiser Darlington II race report

Ward Burton grabbed the headlines Sunday afternoon at historic Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, winning the 52nd annual Southern 500. Jeff Gordon increased his lead in the Winston Cup point standings by finishing second, followed by reigning Winston Cup...

Ward Burton grabbed the headlines Sunday afternoon at historic Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, winning the 52nd annual Southern 500. Jeff Gordon increased his lead in the Winston Cup point standings by finishing second, followed by reigning Winston Cup champ Bobby Labonte. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team were racing for third place with two laps to go when they were taken out in a wild multi-car crash. Dale Jr. was able to finish on the lead lap, limping the crumpled and smoking remains of the Bud car across the finish line in 17th place.

The Key Moment: Starting 18th, the Bud team suffered through a day that was like a cheap Saturday afternoon matinee: they laughed, they cried, they cheered, they booed as they went from a potential top-three finish with the Bud Chevy to pushing a smoldering heap of metal after a late-race crash as they were coming toward the white flag lap.

Racing for 500 miles on the tough Darlington track creates the seemingly endless roller coaster of emotions, as the team was able to launch Dale Jr. into the top 10 with a brilliant pit stop on lap 78, and then watch the car's handling turn evil and drop back to 25th place in a matter of a few moments. The team managed to stay on the lead lap,climbing back into the top 20, only to drop seven spots in two laps when caught behind lapped traffic. Adjustments made during several mid-race pit stops began to pay off in the final 100 laps of the event, and Dale Jr. became one of the fastest cars on the circuit. The key moment came on lap 359 (of 367), when a yellow flag brought many of the top 10 cars into the pits. The Bud team opted to stay on the track, and it looked as if it would pay off. When there was another yellow flag with less than 10 laps to go, NASCAR opted to stop the race rather than let it finish under the caution flag. Once it was restarted for a wild dash to the cash, the overheating car of Dale Jr. passed Ricky Rudd for fourth place and was challenging Jeff Gordon for third when Dave Blaney made it three-wide going into the first turn. Blaney was unable to control his car on the apron of the track, sliding up into Dale Jr. and starting a multi-car crash that damaged a wide assortment of once-beautiful race cars.

Dale Jr's Quotes: "I guess I'm more disappointed than pissed-off about that crash. I mean, we coulda finished third on a day when we struggled and fought and scrapped for every position. Dave Blaney is one of the best guys one of the best people-- out there, but he made it three-wide where ya just can't do it. I almost saved the car, and I even came to a stop and started rolling again when the 40 car (Sterling Marlin) blasted into me. It knocked my hands clean off the steering wheel. It looked like a fireworks show trying to make it around that last lap, sparks and smoke and stuff flying off

"I really disagreed with NASCAR stopping the race (with less than 10 laps to go). I know the fans like it, but every time they stop a race like that, half the field ends up getting crashed. Our car was overheating while we were stopped, and I just wanted to go to the house

About driving 500 miles at a track that is not his favorite: "You try not to crash or spin out in every corner. I am amazed anyone can finish 500 miles without crashing. I'm out there slipping and sliding lap after lap after lap, and I feel so stranded. I feel like Tom Hanks on the island (in the movie "Cast Away"). You know all alone. 'Help! Somebody save me! Anybody!'"

About contact with the 92 car of Stacey Compton: "Man, I did not think he was going to go three-wide there. I left him room: but only enough room for two-wide."

Race Notes / Southern 500

Points Points Points The Bud team and Dale Jr. dropped one spot to seventh place in the point standings as Bobby Labonte's third-place finish moved him into sixth place in the standings. .

Today's Stats Started: 18th Finished: 17th Current Points Position: 7th Money Won: $74,788 Laps Led: -- Best Pit Stop: Lap 280 / 4 tires and Fuel / 13.90 seconds

-Budweiser Racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Sterling Marlin , Dave Blaney