Darlington: Dale Earnhardt Jr, Budweiser race report

Marlin Wins Again, Earnhardt Jr. Fourth No. 8 Budweiser Team Gain their Best-Ever Darlington Finish, Top 10 in Points Sterling Marlin continued his season-long strong performance with a victory this afternoon in the Dodge Dealers 400 at...

Marlin Wins Again, Earnhardt Jr. Fourth
No. 8 Budweiser Team Gain their Best-Ever Darlington Finish, Top 10 in Points

Sterling Marlin continued his season-long strong performance with a victory this afternoon in the Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The No. 8 Budweiser team, with driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., grabbed a fourth-place finish in the race, the first time they have finished in the top five at the tough, historic oval. (Their previous best in any category was a 10th place in the NASCAR Busch Series in 1998.) In a sign of the growing strength of the younger drivers in the series, Elliott Sadler finished second while Kevin Harvick was third. Following Dale Jr. across the line were rookies Ryan Newman and Jimmy Johnson in fifth and sixth. The strong finish for Dale Jr., including leading 10 laps late in the race, vaulted him into tenth place in NASCAR Winston Cup points, a 15-position gain since Las Vegas two races ago. Dale Jr. is only 105 points out of second-place. Following a second-place finish last week, it marks the third time in their Winston Cup career the team has recorded back-to-back top-five finishes (Richmond/Charlotte, 2000 and Richmond/Dover in 2001).

The Key Moment: Dale Jr., starting 23rd, wasted very little time climbing through the field, barreling into the top 10 in less than 40 laps. Once they were near the front, the Bud team stayed there with a fast car and blazing pit stops (see Race Notes) until a pit stop on lap 195 was followed by a yellow flag on lap 196, which stranded them on the tail-end of the lead lap. Though the team believed they should be waved past the pace car to re-join the leaders, their misfortune may have been a blessing, as Dale Jr. missed a major, multi-car accident on lap 227 that took out race leader Tony Stewart and many of the other front-runners. The final re-start of the race saw Dale Jr. pass Marlin for the lead on lap 241, but Marlin's car proved to be better in the long run. Sadler and then Harvick were also able to pass the No. 8 car in the final laps.

Dale Jr's Quotes:

"I can't say how much this means for me and for this team to get a top-five - a top-four - at this track. We have always struggled here and we usually went home with a beat-up race car. This feels great. (Teammate) Steve Park tested here and we learned from that, and then yesterday, we decided to try some shocks from (other teammate) Michael's (Waltrip), and it seemed to work. It was an entire DEI effort. I like this place a little bit more than I did before, but it's still a hard place to race. It's hard as hell to keep the car from just crashing into the wall on every lap."

"We had a good car all day, but just not as good as Sterling (Marlin) and Elliott (Sadler) on long runs. We knew we were better on short runs, so I tried to get out in front and maybe get away from them, but as the green stayed out, we knew they'd be able to catch us. I tried to let them go by and get in behind 'em to save my tires, but I didn't have anything left in the car or the tires for the last 10 laps. I was just holding on."

Today's Stats
Started: - 23rd
Finished: - 4th
Money Won: - $98,542
Points Position: - 10th
Laps Led: - One time for 10 laps.
Best Pit Stop: - Lap 226/4 tires and Fuel/13.61 seconds/Fifth stop of the day

No. 8 Bud Crew Brewin' Up Some Fast Pit Stops
From the first stop to the last, the Bud crew had one of their finest days, averaging less than 14 seconds (13.93 sec) per four-tire stop. In four yellow flag pit stops, the team gained an average of four positions per stop.

Best Radio Conversations

Because the team has always struggled at the difficult Darlington track, the relief (or excitement) of having a fast car could be heard in Dale Jr's voice from early in the race. He continually referred to the "driving-sideways" style that the treacherous track creates.

Dale Jr: "Whoa! The cars are sliding a lot more than yesterday when it was hot. I mean, they're sliding more than I remember here. Coming off of turn two is like driving a limo on an ice rink!"

Dale Jr. battled with Jimmy Spencer for second place for a number of laps midway through the race. Spencer's wild style of slipping and sliding, wobbling and wiggling off of every corner seemed to amuse Dale Jr.

Dale Jr. (in a high-pitched voice, like an announcer at a hillbilly dirt track) "Whoa! Drive it boy! (referring to Spencer). Look at 'im wheel that sum-bitch! Damn, that boy is driving it, isn't he?! Didja see him?!"

The adrenaline from the late-race excitement started when the team lost almost an entire lap in a call by NASCAR that they disputed, followed by the reversal of fortune in avoiding the major accident. This created an almost stream-of-consciousness comedy act between Dale Jr. and the team during the long yellow-flag period.

Dale Jr.: "Damn, that's a big mess back there. (Referring to the multi-car accident.) That 20 car looks beat-up pretty bad. Let me know how Tony (Stewart) is."

Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "They're gonna take him in to be sure, but I think he's OK!"

Dale Jr.: "OK, good. Keep me informed. But, hey guys, WHO'S the man!? Damn, I was wheelin' the hell outta it. We're back in it - we're back in second place. That'll teach 'em - just don't piss me off! I was upset (about the NASCAR ruling to keep the team at the back of the lead lap) and I just couldn't calm down. It was all I could do to get that outta my system. It's funny about how getting mad gets ya a couple of tenths (of a second) per lap. I mean, I was wide-open!"

Tony Jr. "OK, guys, everyone knows what we need to do -- just piss him off before he qualifies next time."

Dale Jr. "It isn't gonna work now cuz ya told me the plan!"

Tony Jr. (teasing Dale Jr, and referring to the exhaust fan that blows clean, fresh air into Dale Jr's helmet) "I don't think your carbon monoxide filter is working!"

Dale Jr.  "Or it's working reallllllllllllllllll good! (evil laugh,
as if he's possessed) Ahahahahahah!  I just might take it home with me!"

Tony Jr: "You'll have to cuz' Dale Jarrett blew up." (Junior was scheduled to ride home in Jarrett's helicopter)

Dale Jr. "Damn, I lost my ride home, so I have to ride in the van with you guys. I mean, that's cool, but you guys turn the stereo down and ride around like a bunch o' old ladies."

Tony Jr. (teasing the rock-and-roll lover) "Yeah, I think 105.7 has bluegrass music on tonight!"

Dale Jr. "Well -- Junior, ya know, we're buddies and all, but we're not THAT good o' friends!"

Tony Jr; "Alright, let's focus on what we need to do here. Let's try to win this race!"

-budweiser/dei-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Steve Park , Jimmy Spencer , Kevin Harvick , Sterling Marlin , Ryan Newman , Elliott Sadler , Tony Eury Jr.