Dale Jr. Leads 28 Laps, Sees Father Gain $1 Million Bonus on Final Lap Dale Earnhardt won the Winston 500 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, AL, gaining a $1 million bonus from Winston in the process. Earnhardt took the lead on...
Dale Jr. Leads 28 Laps, Sees Father Gain $1 Million Bonus on Final Lap
Dale Earnhardt won the Winston 500 Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, AL, gaining a $1 million bonus from Winston in the process. Earnhardt took the lead on the final lap in a wild and wooly finish that saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. make a valiant, last-ditch effort to take the lead in turn one, only to fall back to 14th place on the final circuit. The race featured new rules from NASCAR designed to slow the cars down while increasing the ability to make passes. The rules seemed to have worked, as the race included 49 lead changes among 21 drivers.
The Key Moment: Starting from the third position, Dale Jr. and the Budweiser team staked their claim at the head of the field by leading the first lap, and then leading four additional times for a total of 28 laps. As the race approached the final laps, Dale Jr. had the lead, but was passed by Mike Skinner with three circuits to go. As the tightly-bunched field of cars hurtled down for the white flag, Dale Jr. shot to the inside of Skinner while his father moved up to pass on the high side of the track. Skinner forced the Bud car down onto the apron. As the cars approached turn one at nearly 200 mph, Dale Jr. was forced to lift from full-throttle to keep from crashing. The momentary bobble dropped Dale Jr. to a finishing position of 14th.
Dale Junior's Quotes: "That was nuts wasn't it?! I don't know what it looked like for the fans, but that was a blast from where I sat! I am really happy to have had a really strong run. I'm glad that we finished with the car in one piece - it's a great car and we'll be able to run it at Daytona next season. We didn't win, but we ran really strong and led a lot of laps - and that is important to me and the team. It's been awhile - hey! it's great to see this big crowd (of media) coming over to talk to me again after the race."
About the final lap run for the lead: "I saw my dad make a move and I actually though it was the last lap - going for the checkered flag. It was now or never on that deal. I suppose I could have sat there and tried to be content with something like a fifth or sixth place finish, but I didn't come here to do that and this team didn't come here to do that. We came to win, so I did what I believed I had to do to win.
"I could take the lead at will for the last half of the race, but I knew it would be hard to get there at the very end. Bobby (Labonte) had helped me a lot all day, but (Mike) Skinner just wouldn't stay in line. I made a run on the inside of Skinner and I just ran out of room into turn one. I can't believe I saved it (from crashing). It looked big to me - I was wild outta shape and I though I was gonna end up upside down or something. It was wild - but I really enjoyed the day."
About leading the race in the final stages with Bobby Labonte bumping him from behind: "I told my spotter to tell him (Bobby) to bump me and we'd try to get away from the rest of those guys. It worked a bit but I knew I was a sitting duck there in the lead. I was fine with that - I liked leading the race but I was a bit nervous thinking about how I was going to run the last couple of laps. I trust Bobby and he's a good guy to race with. He was helping me and I apologized to him after the race for maybe taking him out of a chance to win. I think we're gonna win one of these (restrictor-plate) races. I like these races but I just don't know if I'm very good at it yet. I'm not like my daddy yet in knowing when to go and when to lay back, but he's been at it for a few years, so I'm gonna keep trying. I didn't want to look like a dumb *** if I screwed up, but we were up front nearly all day. We like that - that looks good."
About the new engine restrictor plate and aerodynamic rules: "It was a fun race. We could drop back in the field and then move our way back up. I got upset in the middle of the race because we were dropping back and I just didn't know what to do. Tony (Eury) Jr. came on the radio and said "just take 'em one at a time and we'll get there." I said no way I'm doing that and it seemed like we were leading the race pretty soon after! You'd get a good run and just go past a lot of cars."