Darlington: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Photo Finish: Craven wins Darlington 400 Dale Jr. and No. 8 Budweiser Team gets third consecutive top-6 finish. Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch crossed the finish line side-by-side in a photo finish today in the Darlington 400. Craven won the race...

Photo Finish: Craven wins Darlington 400
Dale Jr. and No. 8 Budweiser Team gets third consecutive top-6 finish.

Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch crossed the finish line side-by-side in a photo finish today in the Darlington 400. Craven won the race by a margin of .002. The final half of the race saw close, hard racing all through the top 10 before Craven made his last-ditch effort on the final straightaway as the top two finished while slamming hard against each other. Dave Blaney was third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team finished sixth after leading the most laps (91 out of 293 total laps) for the second time this season. The team, coming off of two top-five results, jumped six positions in the Winston Cup point standings into fourth place. In the last three races, they have gained 34 points positions. The No. 8 Budweiser bunch has led four out of the five races this season, and gained more bonus points (30) than any other team.

The Key Moments: Starting 16th, Dale Jr. and the Budweiser car needed only two laps to get into the top 10, and then used savvy pit strategy to take the lead for the first time on lap 18. After dropping to third place on the second pit stop of the day, the No. 8 re-took the front spot on lap 33, and held it (except for one lap during pit stops) until lap 116, when Mark Martin slid past. The team remained in the top five until a pit stop on lap 191, when loose lug nuts on the left front wheel forced the team to make a second unscheduled stop to fix the problem. This dropped the red car to 11th place with less than 100 laps to go. From there, Dale Jr. fought his way through heavy traffic into seventh before the final yellow flag of the day on lap 238. Making the final restart in 9th position, Dale Jr. again fought his way forward, turning quicker lap times than any other car, reaching fourth place with less than 20 laps to go, before worn tires dropped him behind Martin and teammate Michael Waltrip.

Dale Jr's Quotes:

"Another good day. I had a great car and we had 'em covered except for some trouble in the pits. This place (Darlington) had kind of been an achille's heel for us, but we had a really fast car. Tony Jr. (Eury, car chief) made the right calls on making some small adjustments, and even when we were way back in traffic, we were the fastest car on the track. A couple of pit stops really hurt us there, and I just wore my car out trying to get back up to the leaders. Even when the car got a little tight, we were still pretty good... pretty fast. This is one of those tracks that had not been one of our strong suits, so to come out of here with a good finish makes me feel good about my team and the way we're contenders each week. This is the way it's gonna be from here on this season. This is what it takes to be up there in the points."

About the wild finish:
"They were tryin' to wreck -- and I was hoping they'd all crash and we'd slide on through there! That was a fun, hard racing with all of the guys. It's a hard, hard track, and I'm just exhausted. Not necessarily from the track, but just from circumstances. You give it all you got, because once we fell back in the last 100 laps, I had to drive my butt off just to get back up there. Imagine being in your car for 400 miles right up against Jersey barriers on the highway, but do it at 170mph. One slight wrong move and you're into the wall. I think the 6 car (Mark Martin) was the only car that could stay with us, but he had some (pit) trouble at the end too. I think we got as high as fourth again, but we had worn out the tires getting there and I just couldn't hold on. "

Best Radio Conversations

Best prediction of the weekend, as Dale Jr. pulled his car into the garage after Saturday's final practice.

Dale Jr: "I think we've got the best car we've ever had here. I think we'll be OK..."

Dale Jr. dominated the first half of the race, leading by more than eight seconds at times. Spotter Ty Norris and car chief Tony Eury Jr. encouraged him to get a smooth rhythm and preserve the tires.

Dale Jr.: "Yeah... OK... The car's pretty free here. I know I'm flying... I just gotta slow down a little bit..."

After making an unscheduled stop to tighten lug nuts on lap 193, Dale Jr. tried to make the best of a frustrating situation.

Dale Jr: "We're OK. I think there's a lotta potential danger with all of these lapped cars on the restart. This'll be a pretty good spot for us because I'll have a lotta time to dodge all the (stuff) when they start crashin'..."

Just before restarting ninth on lap 241, Dale Jr. encouraged his pit crew.

Dale Jr: "Damn boys... I'm really glad to be doin' this well in this race. We know we could be a lot better, but we've got a great car here, and we keep making it better each stop. It lasts a little bit longer each time. This is a good day at this place..."

GOODYEAR/GOOD LAP: For the second time in three weeks, Dale Jr. and the team grabbed $5000 for winning the "Goodyear Gatorback Fastest Lap Award." Dale Jr. shot around the egg-shaped oval at an average speed of 164.154 mph while leading on lap 76.

OLD NEWS: The No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet pit crew won the "McDonald's Drive-Thru Pit Championship" for the second consecutive race last week at Atlanta. During the MBNA 500, Earnhardt spent 288 seconds in the pits, while race winner Bobby Labonte was in the pits for 318 seconds.

RACE DRIVER/CRIME FIGHTER: The episode of FASTLANE, featuring Dale Jr. in a cameo role, will air March 28 on FOX (8 p.m. ET and PT). The show is about two undercover police officers fighting crime in Los Angeles.

Don't forget the cool new look of the King of Beers internet site at: www.Budweiser.com Hear music, see videos, play games, and learn ALL about Dale Jr. and the team... it's all at Budweiser.com...


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bobby Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Kurt Busch , Ricky Craven , Dave Blaney , Tony Eury Jr. , Mark Martin