Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon came into Sunday's New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway tied for the lead in Winston Cup points, trailed closely by Ricky Rudd in third. As if the trio were out to prove that they are not willing to...
Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon came into Sunday's New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway tied for the lead in Winston Cup points, trailed closely by Ricky Rudd in third. As if the trio were out to prove that they are not willing to let any other drivers get into their battle for the 2001 Winston Cup title, they dominated the race, with Jarrett winning, followed by Gordon and Rudd across the finish line. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Budweiser team had a day of hard knocks and hard luck, but managed to fight and claw to a ninth place finish. The finish allowed them to maintain their eighth place position in points. It is the eighth top-10 finish of the season (and the 10th top-11) for the team.
The Key Moment: Starting 29th on a track which makes it difficult to pass, Dale Jr. sliced and diced through the pack, making his way into the top 10 in only 80 laps. Following a lap 94 restart after a yellow flag had bunched the field, Dale Jr. was sandwiched in a three-wide crunch as he and Kevin Harvick tried to make their way around the lapped car of Jason Leffler. The contact, which was followed a few laps later by more metal-banging when Todd Bodine ran into the Bud car, damaged the front grill of the car and bent the right front fender. The resulting damage caused the handling of the car to suffer, and also caused the engine to overheat. The team made two long pit stops to correct the overheating problems on laps 165 and 166, which dropped them to 26th place, the last car on the lead lap. The remaining 135 laps of the race saw the team scrap to regain their spot near the front of the field. By the finish, they had gained 17 spots to come home in ninth. It is a career best finish for Dale Jr. and the team in four starts at NHIS.
Dale Jr's Quotes: "Ninth place is a good comeback. We passed a lot of cars on a track that is hard to pass on. The car was great early in the race, but once I bent the nose, it never turned quite as well again. We were able to run the same lap times as the leaders, but were never able to do it consistently enough to get in a position to challenge them."
NHIS had applied a sealer to the track surface prior to the race weekend, attempting to increase the traction in the corners and make the racing more exciting. "The sealer tore up on the surface almost immediately. The first 150 laps were decent, but the track became one-groove-only after that. They had three other races here this weekend, so even at the start of our race you could see the areas that had started to come up. There were patches in the corners that made those areas undriveable. It looked like someone had taken wide strips of rubber and just glued it to the track. You had to straddle those areas with the car: you either had to be above or below it if you wanted to hang on."
Best Team Radio Chatter of the Day
Dale Jr. (explaining how he ended up in a three-wide fight into turn one that left the Bud car with damage to the front-end bodywork.) "I can't run on the outside. I don't want to run on the outside like that. From now on, I will have to move those lapped cars outta the way."
Dale Jr. (after the team's final pit stop of the day) "Where are we at? How many laps are left? Can we go to the end (without making another pit stop)? Tony Eury Jr (car chief) "Yeah, we're done. You're on your own now. You're in ninth and there will be sixty laps to go when you take the green. The guys in front of you have tires that are 15 to 20 laps older than yours, so this is your time. This is your time to race. Time to go!"
As the race neared a close, the action got more intense, with multiple spins, crashes and rough driving, primarily because of the one-groove nature of the track. Under a late caution flag period, the car begins to overheat again due to the damage. Ty Norris (team spotter): "You're faster than that 66 car (Todd Bodine) Watch out, he slammed you good to get by. Just be careful getting back around him." Dale Jr: (angry) "Don't worry about him! Just tell me what the nose of the car looks like." Tony Jr: "It looks just the same as it did before, ya barely got a dent in it" Dale Jr: (teasing, or maybe not) "You liar! (then referring to the driver of the 66 car) that (expletive deleted) is driving like he doesn't have a spotter up there helping him." Tony Jr: "You're right I don't think he has a spotter today" Dale Jr: "Yeah, I guess their team is one man short" Tony Jr.: "10-4. But your lap times still look good" Dale Jr: "The lap times don't matter now. What matters is passing people. I need to pass people! I can't do that if the nose is all screwed up."
Points Points Points The team remained in eighth place in the standings, but gained a significant number of points on several cars ahead of them. Dale Jr. is now only 142 points out of fourth place. Fourth through 15th place in the standings continues to grow closer each week while the top three pull away.
He Never Stops He Just Keeps Going And Going And In addition to participating in Tuesday's weekly NASCAR Winston Cup media teleconference, Dale Jr. will appear on the Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio during the 2:00 pm Eastern hour on Tuesday. He will also take part in a photo shoot for the cover of a major magazine (details announced soon). A lengthy and in-depth interview with DaleJr. will also appear in a leading men's magazine (think Bunnies) on the newsstands later this week. Stay Tuned
Today's Stats Started: 29th Finished: 9th Current Points Position: 8th Money Won: $78,473 Laps Led: --- Best Pit Stop: Lap 234 / 4 tires & fuel /13.49 seconds