Starting from the pole position, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led six times for 175 laps during the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, NC, but an ill-handling car in the final 39 laps dropped the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet to...
Starting from the pole position, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led six times for 175 laps during the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, NC, but an ill-handling car in the final 39 laps dropped the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet to a fourth-place finish. Matt Kenseth earned his first career Winston Cup victory as he led Bobby Labonte across the finish line. Dale Earnhardt finished third after dueling closely with his son during the race, the longest on the Winston Cup circuit made longer by a 51-minute rain delay. Kenseth joins Earnhardt as the second rookie to win a race so far in the 2000 season. Following the race, Earnhardt Jr. ran to victory lane to congratulate his good friend Kenseth, the 11th winner in 12 races this season (only Dale Jr. has won more than once). Leading easily and pulling away from the field, Earnhardt Jr's night went from great to disappointing when the yellow flag came out for the final time on lap 361 (of 400). Earnhardt left the pits in sixth position, but was unable to replicate his earlier domination as he struggled with an evil-handling car the final 39 laps. He was able to fight past two Winston Cup champions, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon, to gain his final finishing position.
"I drove as hard as I could every lap tonight. I'm proud of the team's effort -- we can't be too disappointed, we just finished fourth in the 600.
"I don't know what happened at the end. We had something wrong with that last set of tires. It was skating around like the right front tire was going flat. It was real, real loose -- was not the same car that it was earlier. I couldn't have pushed it harder without wrecking.
"I don't know that we dominated as much as it looked like to everyone. We really had to struggle and fight for every inch, but I think we were in good shape before that last caution flag came out.
"It was a fun night. I got to race hard with my dad quite a bit. That was fun. I was running hard, but not ridiculously hard.
"I am so happy for Matt and Robbie (Reiser, No. 17 crew chief). They are a class act. We became good friends with those guys the last two seasons in the Busch Series. I know how hard they work at it, and they deserve it. I said during the rain delay that Matt was going to be really tough. He's been so consistent all year, and this one makes up for the race they almost won in California."
Dale Jr. sizzled to his first Winston Cup Bud Pole position, breaking a lap speed record that had stood for six years. In 12 races this season, Dale Jr. has qualified in the top 10 nine times, giving him a league-leading starting average of 8.3. He has not started in the same position twice, and has started once in every top ten position except ninth.
With a win at Richmond, Va., a victory in the Winston all-star race, a Bud pole position and fourth place in Sunday night's race, Earnhardt Jr. and the Bud crew earned $745,000 in prize money during the month of May. Their top-five finish also qualifies them for a possible $1 million bonus in Winston's No Bull 5 program at the Richmond, VA race this September. Earnhardt Jr. won the race at the .75-mile Virginia earlier this month.
Kenseth's victory extends his lead in the rookie of the year standings, but Earnhardt Jr's strong performance moves him from 17th to 16th (less than 100 points out of 12th) in Winston Cup points. This is the fourth top 10 and the third top five finish of the year for Earnhardt Jr.