Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Dale Jr. Falls Just Short of Daytona 500 Repeat Jeff Gordon wins third 500 title Jeff Gordon passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with two laps to go and held off Kurt Busch to win the 47th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. It...

Dale Jr. Falls Just Short of Daytona 500 Repeat
Jeff Gordon wins third 500 title

Jeff Gordon passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with two laps to go and held off Kurt Busch to win the 47th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. It is Gordon's third Daytona 500 victory. Dale Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team finished third, scoring his fourth straight top-10 at Daytona and third top-three finish in five career Daytona 500 starts. Junior raced mid-pack for much of the afternoon but made a show of it in the final circuits as he tried to become only the fourth driver to repeat as Daytona 500 champion. He took his first and only lead at lap 195 of 203 but couldn't hold off Gordon and defending NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Busch. As a result, Dale Jr. was left without a Speedweeks win for the first time in four years, but his average finish in four races this week was 3.7 with a runner-up finish, a pair of thirds, and a seventh.

Key Moments: Fighting a tight condition for much of the afternoon, Dale Jr. lay in the weeds near the back of the pack through the first 150 laps. Had it not been for a pit road incident in which Jeff Burton tapped the Bud car and sent it into its pit stall sideways during the second caution, he could've gone virtually unnoticed. But Driver 8 shook it up with 28 laps to go, charging from 17th to fifth in nine laps. Three of the race's 11 cautions came in the final 23 laps, setting up a frantic finish. Junior was behind Tony Stewart and Gordon on a lap-194 restart and jumped into the lead on the ensuing lap. A side-by-side duel with Stewart kept the lead pack bunched, and Gordon made a pass of both drivers on lap 197. A caution on lap 198 forced a green-white-checkered finish, and Gordon was able to keep his lead in the final two laps.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"That was wild, but it was good and safe and fun. We struggled all day with the car, just trying to get it to turn. It pushed real bad. There was one point I was just so terrible that I don't know how we didn't lose the draft and get lapped. That last time we came in and got tires, and we got the car handling good, and we came up on through there at the end. I was able to pass. I got a lot of help from Greg Biffle to get up into the top-10. I wanted to help Tony (Stewart), but we couldn't really get into the same line. Plus, he was in the lead, so I had to try to win the race, too. Gordon got a run on me, and I couldn't stop him. He was going too fast for me to even get a draft off of him. But it was a good day for us. I think we made the most of a bad day."

Could you have won the race if you had a little help at the end?
"Absolutely. It was amazing the difference in the car from then, and maybe 50 laps before then. It was really fast. The Budweiser Chevrolet sure runs good when you need her to."

Considering the position you were in for most of the race, how happy were you with a third-place finish?
"I was real, real happy. I was jumping all over the radio when we got into that position with about 15 to go. I was really surprised, because I'm telling you the car was way, way off at one point. We got up to about 10th. During the middle of the race my car felt like it had a big hole in it, and it would push up against the wall. We barely hung in the top-20 at that point. But I was one of the best cars at the end I thought. The guys racing me at the end hadn't seen me all day, so they didn't know what I had. Most of the time when you got a guy who hasn't been up there all day, you won't draft with him, you'll wanna get around him."

About your new crew:
"I thought they did great. We didn't have one bad pit stop all day. When you do that, you can't complain. I mean, we gained spots about every time. We came in 14th and came out eighth once, which is good. I didn't follow every change they made, but I want to let Pete (Rondeau, crew chief) make the choices. It's a super-relaxed deal for me -- a relaxed deal, no pressure. I just race it as hard as I can."

Best Radio Chatter:

A miscue with Jeff Burton on a lap-62 pit stop sent

Dale Jr. into his pit stall sideways, and the Bud team had to perform a pit stop with the car sitting perpendicular to the pit wall:

Pete Rondeau (crew chief): "Nice job, nice save on that last pit stop."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, I'm sorry about that. I tried to avoid the 31 car. He thought I was trying to crap on him. It was my fault."

Under the eighth caution, Dale Jr. decided it was time to make his move once the race restarted:

Dale Jr.: "I'll tell ya this: I'm not going to wait in the bottom lane and wait for these guys to lift-off (the throttle). I'm goin' to the top. If I go to the top, and it doesn't work, it just doesn't work."

Rondeau: "OK."

Dale Jr.: "I haven't been getting nowhere all day; haven't made any good moves at all. I'm going to start making some and see if they pan out."

Junior moved up into fifth by lap 183 before a caution slowed the field for a multi-car crash:

Rondeau: "How's your car handling now?"

Dale Jr.: "It don't matter. I ain't coming in. I'm about to lead this sumbitch!"

Rondeau: "You need to watch to see if they're (the leaders) coming (to pit lane)."

Dale Jr.: "They ain't coming... I'm up to third baby, WHOAAA! I ain't (teasing) ya! I think I broke the gas pedal on that last run. I ain't kidding, It's bent like hell!"

Rondeau: "That's alright, we've got more of them."

Steve Hmiel (spotter): "Well, Tony (Stewart) has been waiting on ya all day."

Dale Jr.: "Haha! Alright!"

With the race extended three laps because of the 11th caution, Dale Jr. was sitting in second place after having taken and lost the lead in a duel with Jeff Gordon:

Dale Jr.: "Well, I had the lead for a second, guys. Hah! I'll try to get it back."

Rondeau: "Ten-four, bud. You're wheelin' it. Looks great, bud.

Dale Jr.: "The top (line) is going to win this race. I'm tellin' ya. I'd like to race for it, but I don't want to end up ... wreckin'. The best advice I can give this guy starting in front of me (Jeff Gordon) is to start early, because the faster we start, the longer it will take everybody else to get pushed back up. On these slow restarts, everybody's beatin' on each other off of (turn) two."

Hmiel (spotter): "OK, I'll alert his spotter."

Dale Jr.: "I'll push the hell out of him if Jimmie will stay in line 'til the last lap. Let's not get any stupid slow start.JLet's get out here and get going." Rondeau: "Junior, I'm glad I got you right now."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, I'm feeling pretty good. But, I gave no drafting help here. It would be kind of foolish of me to think I can go for it on the restart or anything like that.

Rondeau: "Ten-four. You'll do your best, I'm sure of that.

Dale Jr: "I mean, he's got his buddy with him there behind me, so it'll be kind of test. I'll wait for the best opportunity for me."

Hmiel: "The 24 says the only way they'll come down slow is if you start to lag, and I told him you're not going to do that, June."

Dale Jr.: "Tell him just get a fast rolling start."

-dei-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch