Faltering battery hands Bud Team 11th-place finish at Darlington Dale Jr. fourth in point standings with one race to go Jimmie Johnson won his series-best eighth race of the season and fourth in the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship leading...
Faltering battery hands Bud Team 11th-place finish at Darlington
Dale Jr. fourth in point standings with one race to go
Jimmie Johnson won his series-best eighth race of the season and fourth in the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship leading Mark Martin across the finish line to win the final Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Johnson led 124 of 367 laps, bested only by teammate Jeff Gordon, who led 155 and finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team struggled with a poor-handling race car, but still had their Chevrolet in position for a top-10 finish before the battery died 24 laps from the end. The extra pit stop for a battery-change dropped Dale Jr. to 15th for a lap-349 restart. Dale Jr. staged a rally in the final circuits to finish 11th. The finish drops Dale Jr. to fourth in the point standings, 72 points behind leader Kurt Busch. Johnson is second (-18) and Gordon third (-21) heading into the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday. Mathematically, Dale Jr. could finish the season in any position from first to fifth after next week's finale.
As is usually the case at Darlington, tire wear was an issue from the outset, as the lack of grip dropped the Budweiser Chevy from third to 15th in the first 47 laps. With cold temperatures and a setting sun further complicating matters, the Bud team elected for a complete overhaul under the fourth caution, making two stops totaling 48 seconds to completely change the set-up. The changes worked, as Dale Jr. restarted 21st and drove the Bud car back into the top-10 by lap 254. Aside from a brush with the wall, Dale Jr. didn't encounter any major problems until lap 340 when his 10th-place car began to lose power. The Bud team luckily caught a caution before losing a lap, enabling team member Jay Guarneri to make the battery change in less than 25 seconds on a lap-346 pit stop. Dale Jr. then gained four positions in the final 21-lap sprint, finishing behind 10th-place Mike Bliss.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"Man, what a hard race. It's pretty disappointing to finish the way we did, but at best we were no better than a 10th-place car. We'd adjust it, make it decent, and then it would get worse. After about 40 laps the tires were just gone, and it was everything I could do to keep from knocking the wall down. Then we get a dead battery with about 25 to go, so what do ya do? I'm proud of my team. I'm proud of the effort they gave. We got lucky when the yellow flag came out so we could change it without losing a lap, but it ended any chance for a top-five."
About his chances for the Chase for the Championship:
"How far are we behind -- 72 points? That's too many. We'll go to Homestead and try our best. It will be really tough, and we'll need to be lucky, too. For us to win the championship I think we'd have to win the race (at Homestead), lead the most laps, and hope the other guys finish a lot worse. I'm still not sure what would give us the championship, but it's a long shot. It's tough to do, but we'll go in there and give it all we got. We've had a real good season no matter what happens next week."
Best Radio Chatter:
Just pass the halfway point, the Bud car was extremely loose in the corners, causing Dale Jr. to get vocal about his temperamental race car.
Dale Jr.: "I hit the wall pretty hard three or four laps ago. Car is terrible. The second run was the best it's been. We're going the wrong way, and I don't like it. There's absolutely no grip in the back."
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "Well, the last time you said it was tight, so all I did was go one-and-a-half up on the track bar. You want me to take bite out, but I'm telling ya you'll lose even more grip. Don't worry about the second run, and let me do what I think needs to be done."
Dale Jr.: "I don't want bite, I want grip! I ain't doing nothing wrong."
Tony Jr.: "No, you're doing fine. You're just getting irritated with me."
Dale Jr.: "Junior, this is Darlington. I can't help it. I don't like this track. I'm apologizing now. I hate it. The car isn't good on long runs. The long runs are no good."
While much of the race chatter was about the handle of the car - or the lack thereof - Dale Jr. did manage to squeeze out of a Monday obligation, in which he was to test a new chassis and some components at Kentucky Speedway.
Dale Jr. (to his spotter and DEI Director of Technical Operations, Steve Hmiel): "Hey, Steve--"
Dale Jr: "Do I have to go tomorrow? Can I do it another day?"
Hmiel: "Yeah, we can definitely do it another day -- I was watching the sun go down and it's been a long day. No problem."
Dale Jr.: "I got days I can give you."
Hmiel: "That's cool, man, 100 percent. I was just thinking myself five minutes ago how this has been a long day."