Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Budweiser No. 8 team grabbed an emotional victory Saturday night in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Dale Jr. dominated nearly the entire race, leading 116 of the 160 laps. Emotions had run high all...
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Budweiser No. 8 team grabbed an emotional victory Saturday night in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Dale Jr. dominated nearly the entire race, leading 116 of the 160 laps. Emotions had run high all weekend at the track where his legendary father was tragically killed in February, but Dale Jr. and the team were able to put emotion to the side until after the checkered flag. After the victory, Dale Jr. spun the red-and-white Bud car, a special paint scheme to commemorate the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, through the infield grass, then climbed on top of the car, raising his arms in triumph in front of a crowd of more than 170,000 spectators. He was soon joined there by his Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Michael Waltrip, who finished second. It is Earnhardt's first win of the season, and the third Winston Cup victory of his career.
The Key Moment: Even though Dale Jr. was only able to qualify 13th Friday afternoon, he was clearly the fastest and best-handling car during the evening's final practice session. The team and the driver were quietly confident that they had the car to beat in the race. When the race began, Dale Jr. took it easy for the first ten laps, dropping as far back as 31st position on lap 7. After that, he moved through the field to take the lead on 27. After that, he was clearly the fastest car, but was the victim of a yellow flag that flew on lap 142. When the No. 8 team made their third sparkling pit stop of the night, six cars that did not pit were ahead of the Bud car when the final green flag fell with six laps to go. It took him only two laps to pass the five cars ahead of him, and he led the final laps with his teammate Michael Waltrip on his rear bumper, helping to push him to victory. Dale Jr. had helped Waltrip in almost the exact same manner when they finished first and second in the tragic Daytona 500 in February.
Dale Jr's Quotes: "I wanna dedicate this one to my dad. This one is for him. I wish I could have seen the look on Teresa's (Earnhardt's widow) face. This is for her too. We all stuck together and we're getting through the rough time together as a team - Tony (Eury) my crew chief, Tony (Eury) Jr., Ty Norris and everybody at DEI... This is great! Unbelieveable! I love coming to Daytona, and to win here it0x2026 it just means a lot."
"Yeah, I thought about my dad, but I tried to keep my mind clear all weekend. I think the first lap or two of practice, it felt different, it felt very strange. That was really tough for me, but after that the car was so good that I was able to concentrate and just do what I am paid to do."
"We were just faster than everybody else. It was all car - 100% car tonight. I could go anywhere I wanted and it seemed like everybody tried to make a run at us or gang up on us and I could put the car anywhere I needed to go. What an awesome car! I could pull away from the guys behind me, but if you got too far out in the lead, they could really get a run on you in the draft."
"I was so happy to see Michael (Waltrip) behind me. I knew he was gonna help me. I helped him - I committed to him - at the 500, and I TOLD him that I helped him! (laughs) So,I knew he was right behind me supporting me tonight and he did. He was so happy when we were jumping on the cars. He's had a rough year, so I was happy for him as well. "
(Taking a deep breathe after climbing into a van to be taken to the media center after a long and emotional victory lane celebration.) "Whoa. This is HUGE!"
(Looking down from the media center onto the skid marks where he had done donuts in the grass after the win) "I'm looking at those marks, and they don't look very good from here. I hope they looked better to you guys when I was doin' them. When Matt Kenseth won at Charlotte last year, he did some sort of high-speed slide though the grass, so I was kinda going for that, mixed with some donuts. You HAVE to do stuff like that after you win because you've got so much energy that you have to let it out. You gotta let it out like that by spinning around and jumping out of the car and letting out some yells! Otherwise, if you don't, you get to victory lane and you'll just get outta the car and fall over or lose consciousness."
"The big tire marks on the right side of the car are from Matt! He came up beside me after the race and bumped me, but we touched wheels and we both were kinda thrown up in the air. That was wild!"
Comment from Dale Jarrett, who came to see Dale Jr. in victory lane: "That reminded me of someone else I used to know...."
Best Team Radio Chatter of the Day
During the pace laps before the race started. Ty Norris (team spotter) "I can see you clearly down the backstretch but I may be guessing everywhere else." Dale Jr: "That's OK. I'll be guessing a lot myself."
Seconds later, as Dale Jr. slowly drove past the Budweiser pit area, one lap before the start of the race: Dale Jr: "Hey y'all get off that wall there, you guys need to get ready to work tonight. We got some work to do. And tell that (PR guy) to get the hell back.... He's in the way there...."
Dale Jr. requested a slight adjustment of one-quarter pound of air pressure the left rear tire during the first pit stop. After running a few laps at top speed, he radioed the crew to check on what change was made. Dale Jr: "I'm loose off of turn two for some damn reason. I feel like I'm gonna spin out back there every lap. Tony Jr., what did you change on this?!" Tony Eury Jr. (car chief) "We added a pound in the left rear." Dale Jr: "A pound?! I said a quarter-pound! You won't listen to me?!" Tony Jr: "We can't make that small of an adjustment." Dale Jr. "What?! Are you sayin' I can't tell the difference in a quarter-pound of pressure, 'cause I can! I asked for it and you didn't listen. Damn man, I am more valuable to you than you'll ever know...." Tony Eury Sr. (crew chief): "No, he meant our tire gauge won't read that small of a change." Ty Norris: "Hey, you're all worth a lot to each other, my brothers!"
When teammate Steve Park was in second position, Dale Jr. attempted to help Park fend off the advances of Matt Kenseth, the third place car. Dale Jr: "Ask Steve what he wants to do. Does he wanna run high or low? Let's pretend I'm driving the 1 car (Park) right now. You tell me when the 17 car (Kenseth) has a run on the 1 car." Ty Norris: "He has to run high to stop the 17 car from passing him on the high side." Dale Jr: "Alright, then we'll see who's gonna help me, OK?!"
Dale Jr. saw most of the action in his rear-view mirror tonight. Dale Jr. "They're racin' like hell back there!" Tony Jr: "That looked like a pretty nice save there, driver...." Dale Jr.: "Well.... what can I say?!... (long pause) I got a good car here. I'm just showin' 'em my ass...."
As the race neared its conclusion, the team debated whether to change no tires, two tires or four tires on the final pit stop. When the yellow flag flew on lap 142, the team decided to take four tires. Dale Jr. "If I get four tires, I'd like it.... but if I NEED to race these guys with no tires or two tires, I dunno about that. But, I'm pretty comfortable now.... No matter what, I'll drive my ass off...." Ty Norris: "Everybody else seems to be saying four...." Tony Eury Sr: "OK, pit this lap." Dale Jr.: "Alright now guys, everybody calm down. Let's do things like there are 100 laps to go, OK? What do y'all think? Two or four tires?" Tony Eury: (as Dale Jr. rolls down pit lane toward the pit box): "OK, four tires. Four tires."
As the race approached the final green flag with six laps to go, the Bud car was in sixth place. Dale Jr: "I wanna win this one pretty bad. If we don't, we shoulda. I'm sorry...." Joey Meier (secondary spotter, located along the back stretch) "Jr., you've been great. The five cars in front of you haven't been able to keep up with you all night. If you can believe it, it was that 31 car (Mike Skinner) that started that big crash." Dale Jr: "Why wouldn't I believe that?!" Joey Meier: "I was being facetious...." Dale Jr: "Yeah, so was I...."
Teammate Michael Waltrip slid into second place with two laps to go, and slotted himself on Dale Jr's back bumper to the finish. Ty Norris: "That's the 15 car right behind you! That man is committed to you, I know it. He is committed to help you.... (as the last lap begins) He's gonna stay with you.... just protect the bottom of the race track.... just like he did in the 500.... protect the bottom. You got it! You got it!"
Race Notes Pepsi 400
Points Points Points The team gained the maximum points available with the victory and by leading the most laps. The bounty helped boost them to ninth place in Winston Cup points. The win makes the team eligible for a one million dollar bonus if they win the race at Richmond in September as a part of the Winston NO BULL 5....
Pop Stars It scored him no points toward the Winston Cup, but Dale Jr. did meet Lance from N'Sync before the race. He did not meet grand marshal Brittney Spears, but did autograph items for her family, who are Dale Jr. fans...
Today's Stats Started: 13th Finished: 1st Current Points Position: 9th Money Won: $185,873 Laps Led: Four times for 116 laps Best Pit Stop: Lap 89 / 4 tires & fuel / 14.25 seconds Each of the three pit stops for the Bud crew were less than 15 seconds! The slowest stop of the evening was 14.95 seconds.