Daytona II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Jeff Gordon won from the Bud Pole for the second consecutive week, winning Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway and becoming the first driver to reach four victories this season. NEXTEL Cup Series point leader Jimmie...

Jeff Gordon won from the Bud Pole for the second consecutive week, winning Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway and becoming the first driver to reach four victories this season. NEXTEL Cup Series point leader Jimmie Johnson finished second. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team's bid to become the first team to earn the "Daytona Sweep" since 1982 came up short with a third-place effort. It was Dale Jr.'s sixth top-seven finish in the last eight races at Daytona and seventh top-three in 2004. He led twice for 23 laps (11th race led this year), gaining five bonus points and remaining 27 tallies behind Johnson in the standings. Gordon is now in third, 232 points behind his teammate.

Key Moments: Starting in the top five at Daytona for the fifth time, Dale Jr. took his first lead on lap 55 and paced the field for 19 laps. His lead was lost on lap 72 when Brian Vickers took a wide exit from his pit stall and forced the red No. 8 into the rain-drenched grass (thunderstorms had delayed the race two hours). Dale Jr. escaped his infield excursion unscathed, and staged one of three valiant charges to the front pack. His final dash came with 20 to go when he used drafting help from Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch to go from 18th to second in just eight circuits around the 2.5-mile superspeedway. It still wasn't enough, however, to get passed the Hendrick Motorsports duo, as the lead pack crossed the line single file.

Dale Jr. Quotes: "It's a good finish for us. I'm a bit disappointed, because we lost a lot of track position in the pits, and the place to be was out front in that clean air. I tried to make a run on them (Gordon and Johnson), but I just didn't have the car to there. It was a tough battle at the end, but we didn't have anything for 'em. If they would've gone side-by-side on the last lap, it could've been interesting. I would've probably gone with Jimmie if that would've happened, because Jeff has more wins (laughing)."

On his "off-road" adventure in the pits: "Some guys just don't watch where they're going, or their spotters aren't very good. I just had to take evasive action. We didn't want to tear up our car that early in the race. The car was great, the motor was great, the body was great, but it still wasn't enough. I can take a loss if we're right on the button. The Hendrick cars just did their work. They did what they had to do. It wasn't like we didn't have the help. We just didn't have enough to beat them."

Best Radio Chatter:  On lap 72 when an exit out of the pit-box resulted
in a trip through the rain-soaked grass:  Dale Jr.: "(He) wouldn't turn!
I'm sorry."  Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "That's OK.  I'd rather keep the
car in one piece.  Good job."  Dale Jr. (while glancing at the jumbo
screen under the caution): "What's going on on the big screen?"  Tony
Jr.: "It's the 09 (Bobby Hamilton Jr.).  He blew a tire and then it
caught on fire."  Dale Jr.: "Man!"

As the laps winded down, Dale Jr. needed drafting help from behind in order to challenge the front two cars of Gordon and Johnson. Stevie Reeves (spotter): "The 97 said he can't drive the top." Dale Jr.: "Man, we're not going to be able to pass these (guys) on the bottom. He better figure out how! (Long pause) We don't have anything for them." Tony Jr.: "Ahhh, you'll figure something out." Dale Jr.: "Not if he can't drive the top." ----

The Other Mike Wallace: Dale Jr. spent much of the day Friday with Mike Wallace. No - not the winner of the Friday evening Busch Series race - but rather the dean of the CBS news organization and 60 Minutes correspondent. Dale Jr. will be the second NASCAR driver ever featured in the 37 years of the 60 Minutes franchise in a segment that will air sometime this fall. Dale Jr. gave Wallace a high-speed ride around the Daytona superspeedway in a pre-production prototype of the new 2005 Corvette C6, explained the details of the No. Budweiser race car and sat for an extensive interview with the 86-year-old Wallace.

-br-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Mike Wallace , Kurt Busch , Bobby Hamilton Jr. , Jimmie Johnson , Brian Vickers , Tony Eury Jr.
Teams Hendrick Motorsports