Dale Jr. Second in Thrilling Battle with Labonte Bud Team Gains Ground in Points Chase, Now 7th Overall Defending Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte got his first victory of the 2001 season Sunday at the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway,...
Dale Jr. Second in Thrilling Battle with Labonte Bud Team Gains Ground in Points Chase, Now 7th Overall
Defending Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte got his first victory of the 2001 season Sunday at the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway, but he had to survive a fierce dual with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team. Dale Jr. led laps 169 through197, but could not hold off the hard-charging Labonte, who took the lead on lap 198 and held it until the finish. The second-place finish is the fifth top-three finish of the season for the Budweiser team, and propels Dale Jr.into seventh place in the Winston Cup point standings, less than 135 points behind fourth place Tony Stewart. The team has nine top-10 finishes this season, nearly doubling their total of five from last season.
The Key Moment: Starting 12th, it took Dale Jr.less than one lap to leap into 8th place, and then fewer than 10 laps to get into the top five, where he stayed for much of the rest of the day.The key moment came during a caution period pit stop when the team took fuel only on lap 159. With 41 laps to go, it was a gamble to make it to the finish without stopping again, but the Bud car set sail and led easily until three laps to go when Labonte barged past. As the car rounded the final turn on the last lap, it sputtered and ran out of fuel, coasting across the finish line in second place.
Dale Jr's Quotes: "With about 80 laps to go, I would have given anything for a top three finish, but once you get up there in the lead and then lose it with three to go is disappointing. I thought we would be alright up there because we had clean air on the car, but it just kept getting tighter and tighter (front tires don't turn as efficiently), and I just couldn't hold Bobby off. Even though I had a big lead several times, I was never cruising out there, I was going as hard as I could."
"I did all I could do to hold him back. If we ran that same thing 10 more times, he would get by me each time because he was faster. He must have wanted this one more than me, and I wanted it pretty bad. He went into the tunnel turn (turn two) like I've never seen anyone do it before. He went about 15-20 car lengths deeper in that corner than I did, and he was gone.I had a lotta fun with him because I respect Bobby. I kinda played a little dirty! I wanted to win and I was trying to block or make him hit me in the rear bumper, but he wouldn't have none of that! Congratulations to Bobby! he was awesome."
"I'm proud of the whole team! And of myself too. A second place means we keep the momentum going and it continues to show how far we've come as a team. We're more confident and we just keep gaining points and gaining positions. This is a track where we struggled last year, so I think we've come a long way."
Best Team Radio Chatter of the Day
Dale Jr. was just ahead of the biggest crash of the day on lap 149. Dale Jr: "Whoa! How many cars were in that one?" Tony Eury Jr (car chief): "About six or seven! "Dale Jr. "That looked like a BIG BIG wreck!"
After a fuel-only pit stop on lap 158, the team urged Dale Jr. to conserve fuel as best he could. Jeff Clark (engine man/jack man): "Just keep those butterfly's closed under yellow. Save what you can." Dale Jr. "How do I get around if the throttle's closed?" Jeff Clark: "Just don't spin the tires and run in 2nd gear. You'll do great." Tony Jr: "We're OK on fuel if we get two more laps of caution here." Dale Jr: "Tell me about the calculation because I want to know if we can make it to the finish. I don't want to be the only one that doesn't know a thing." Tony Sr: "Let's win this race and then we'll send a wrecker out to get ya if you run out on the back stretch. We're gonna go with the computer on this one -- it says you can make it."
Race Notes / Pennsylvania 500
Points Points Points It seems like a broken record: each week Dale Jr. gains more points and at least another position in the standings. This week, he moves to seventh place, and closes even further on fourth through sixth position.
Current Points Position: 7th
Laps Led: led two times for 31 laps
Best Pit Stop: Lap108 / 4 tires & fuel/ 14 seconds