Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Waltrip wins Daytona 500 again as rain falls. Dale Jr. cruises, then falls victim to electrical troubles. Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver Michael Waltrip won the 45th annual Daytona 500, as rain stopped the race after 109 of a scheduled 200 laps.

Waltrip wins Daytona 500 again as rain falls.
Dale Jr. cruises, then falls victim to electrical troubles.

Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver Michael Waltrip won the 45th annual Daytona 500, as rain stopped the race after 109 of a scheduled 200 laps. Waltrip, who won the race for the second time in the last three years, took the lead for the final time on lap 106, following his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. past leader Jimmy Johnson, who finished third behind Waltrip and Kurt Busch. Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser car led the race for 22 laps, easily staying among the top three positions (except for pit stops) until he was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 89 to replace a dead battery due to a faulty alternator. Dale Jr, finished the race in 36th position after winning the Budweiser Shootout, the Twin-125 qualifying race and the Busch Series 300 in the previous eight days.

The Key Moments:`Dale Jr., starting on the outside of the front row, dropped behind teammate Waltrip on lap five, and stayed on his rear bumper until the first set of pit stops. After the entire field had made their first stop for fuel and/or tires, the Budweiser car cruised in third place until the second set of pit stops. A quick stop for two tires launched the No. 8 into the lead on lap 43. Dale Jr. led the field for 22 laps until rain stopped the race on lap 63.J The first sign of trouble for the Bud team came as the race was being restarted after the one hour and eight minute delay. The car did start after being pushed by a tow truck, but a faulty alternator caused the voltmeter to slowly drain to zero. The engine began to sputter and falter, causing the team to make an unscheduled stop to replace the battery. After falling two laps behind, Dale Jr. made a banzai run back through the field, making up one of the two laps before rain stopped the action for good on lap 109.

Dale Jr's Quotes:`"Before the race, Tony (car chief Eury Jr.) and I talked, and we agreed that no matter what happened today, we had a great week. He and I talked about that again when the second red flag came out. Damn it -- it's really heartbreaking to do so well and then have something like that go wrong. We know that this kind of thing happens to champions. We're disappointed but we're gonna go on and focus on the championship. That's the way this kind of race goes -- you can win everything at Daytona, but the 500 is another kinda deal entirely. Look at my dad -- it took him 20 times to win this thing. Hopefully we're not gonna have to wait that long, but it just seems like weird things happen in this race. My crew has been great, and we had things going our way. You needed to stay up front, and even when we had problems, the guys stayed focused and changed the battery as quick as they could. If the race would have gone the distance, they would have had to deal with us."

About making up one of the two laps: "It's great for Michael and DEI. Another victory just shows how strong our company is, top to bottom. But if we could have gone back out (and finished the last 91 laps), we were gonna get back up front. We would have needed another yellow flag or two to help us, but we would have been there. The car was awesome, and we made our way from the back to the front pretty easily. The car was so good, it seemed like the guys ahead of us just moved over. Kinda like they were saying 'go on by and we'll see ya (next week) at Rockingham.' They didn't want to get in our way. At one point, the 99 car (Jeff Burton) was right behind me going into (turns) one and two, and I just flew through the middle lane and the car dug in and we went high... we passed a lotta cars in one move. I wish I woulda been in the 99 car to have watched that. Whoa! It was damn cool."

About being totally focused for almost two weeks since arriving in Daytona: "I was here to win. I didn't come down here to [mess] around, and neither did my team. I was so focused that it was like everything was happening around me and I was just focused right down the center. Don't talk to me -- let's just go racing. It's like a cell phone system that's overloaded on race day: no calls in and no calls out. All systems busy. It's insane here with all the hoopla and everybody coming at me from everywhere. It's a madhouse. It makes ya pray to get to Rockingham, ya know? But, we had fun as a team and we're gonna give it one helluva run for the title."

Today's Race Notes:

***Despite the disappointment of today's finish, Dale Jr. had a successful and historic week. After winning the Budweiser Shootout, the Twin-125 and the Busch Series 300, Dale Jr. joined two other drivers in the modern era with three victories in one Speedweeks. His father, Dale Earnhardt, accomplished the same feat in 1986, 1991 and 1993, while Bobby Allison won three in 1988. (Fireball Roberts won four races in 1962 before the current format was adopted.)

*** Starting with last week's Budweiser Shootout victory, Dale Jr. won three races and total prize earnings of $569,221.

*** Budweiser Celebrity Sighting; Rap star Ludacris spent much of the race in the Budweiser pit area as a guest of Dale Jr.

Best Radio Conversations

As the race neared the first set of pit stops, the Budweiser team and the NAPA team (with Waltrip) were running first and second. The teams planned to pit together, but the fuel meter on the Bud car began to fluctuate on the back stretch one lap earlier than expected.
Dale Jr.: "I think we could have pushed it one more lap. I can go one more if we needed. Let's keep that in mind if we need it late in the race."
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "Yeah, I feel bad for Slugger (Labbe, NAPA team crew chief), because we pitted a lap early, but we wanted to be safe. We didn't wanna run ya out (of fuel)..."

As the race neared the 100-mile mark, the driver reported a slight problem inside the car...
Dale Jr: "I dunno where you guys mounted this water bottle, but if I had some tea bags, we'd have hot tea here. It burned my lips... seriously! It's like drinking hot coffee."

The most dramatic moment of the race was a lap 57 crash that saw Ryan Newman flip and tumble down the frontstretch. Dale Jr. was immediately concerned...
Dale Jr: (asking his spotter, Ty Norris): "How bad did he turn over? Pretty bad or just a couple of flips?"
Norris: "Pretty bad, but he's out of the car. He's OK..."
Dale Jr. (after passing the crash site several times) "Did you see 'em roll it back over?"
Norris: "Yeah, the driver's compartment looks really good. It was in good shape..."
Dale Jr: "I don't care what you say, that ride couldn't have been wilder or any cooler than that bad-ass slide through the grass I did last year..." (Dale Jr. avoided an accident in last year's Daytona 500 with a wicked back-and forth slide through the infield grass...In Junior's words, it was "all asses over elbows...")
Eury Jr: "Well, he had one of them 'grass, sky, grass, sky, grass, sky' kinda rides like you did a few years ago..."

As the rain began to fall for the first time on lap 61...
Dale Jr: "Guys, this is not a butt-chewin,' but if it looks like rain, you need to have someone full-time looking at the radar... Someone feeding us information... You know, AJ Foyt won all his Winston Cup races that way. It'd be like some sorta untapped advantage,"

He also expressed his appreciation for the large big-screen video monitors on the backstretch.
Dale Jr: "I love these big screens... I can watch 'em all the way down the straight. I've seen all the replays of the crashes and our pit stops..."

As the battery began to drain and the voltmeter continued to drop after the restart, the car began to sputter, and Dale Jr. began to worry about the field stacked behind him...
Dale Jr. (frantically to spotter Norris) "Tell Tony (Stewart) not to spin me out! Tell him the car is shutting off! Tell him!"


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Michael Waltrip , Tony Eury Jr.