Daytona II: Dale Earnhardt Jr. race report

Drama at Daytona for Dale Jr. Waltrip wins as Earnhardt Jr. and No. 8 Budweiser team finish 6th in Pepsi 400. Michael Waltrip won Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, as he fended off a late race challenge for the lead...

Drama at Daytona for Dale Jr. Waltrip wins as Earnhardt Jr. and No. 8 Budweiser team finish 6th in Pepsi 400.

Michael Waltrip won Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, as he fended off a late race challenge for the lead from his Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Budweiser/Major League Baseball No. 8 car. Earnhardt Jr. had followed Waltrip for much of the second half of the race, but in a gut-wrenching decision whether to stay in second to help Waltrip win or challenge him for first place, Dale Jr. made a dramatic move to the outside of Waltrip in turn one on lap 156 (of 160) but received no drafting help from the cars behind him, which dropped him to sixth place at the finish. Rusty Wallace and Sterling Marlin finished second and third. Dale Jr. led for a single lap on the 118th circuit, earning five bonus points in the team's best result since winning at Talladega in April.

The Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 9th, stayed among the lead pack of cars for the entire evening, never dropping out of the top 10. Strong pit work complemented the fast car, and the team was able to help Dale Jr. gain several positions during each pit stop. Dale Jr. ran in the top three positions from lap 60 until his move to pass Waltrip dropped him to sixth with three laps remaining.

Dale Jr's Quotes: About the decision to try and race his teammate Waltrip for the win, rather than stay in second place and help him: "Of all of the times that I have wondered what my daddy would do, this was the hardest tonight. I had a lot of caution laps to think about it. I know my dad would have tried to win. He never cared who was in front of him. He would have gone for it."

"We tried to make a pass on Michael for the win and we kind of came up short. We didn't get any drafting help. Michael went on to win the race. That's good. You just want to be able to win for the company and everything. And the company needs the win, Michael needs the win, but we need the win too. I stayed behind him most of the race, kept us both up front, and when it came down to the last few laps you gotta race. I don't think anybody, when they really sit down and think about it, would want us to kind of just sit there and cookie cutter the whole thing out. And orchestrate the finish. I tried to make a move on him and almost had him, I thought I had a good effort it, but Michael got more help. I knew Rusty (Wallace) wouldn't help me. I've raced for three years now and the man's never drafted with me once.

"I wanted to help Michael up until like 10 laps to go and then try to devise a plan to get around him. I was going to try to keep us both up there as close to the front as I could, and then with 10 to go, give us a good shot at either of us winning the race. It worked out. It kept him up front. It's hard to pass the leader with the rules the way they are, only on restarts, and we got a good run on the restart there. Actually, I had a much better shot at him with about 19 or 20 laps left, but I held back. I felt like it was too soon, and I knew if I went on around him then, he'd be trying to do the exact same thing to me the rest of the night. It was just too soon to make that move right then.

"It's a tough situation to be in to make the right decision. I was trying to make good judgment calls and I've got a lot of people working on my race car that cut and bleed on those things to go to victory lane and they don't want to see me give up the win just because my buddy Michael is leading the race. As a racecar driver, I've got to have a race team that's behind me 100 percent. I've got to do what it takes to try to win races for those guys. That0x00b9s number one. Second comes the other teams in the company, and the benefit of the company and all that stuff and what we can do to make it better, but when it comes down to it, I have to drive as hard as I can for these 15 guys that work on this car."

What about the fans throwing debris on the track at the end of the race? "I was wondering if Michael had done some kind of hat trick. I didn't know what it was."

Best Radio Conversations
Running first and second has become a normal routine for Waltrip and Dale Jr. at Daytona and Talladega. They have finished in those positions at three of the last four superspeedway races. The DEI teammates have excelled at helping each other get to the front of the pack, but both have struggled with the decision to race each other for the win or to run in tandem and almost assure a finish of first and second for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

In more than two and a half seasons of reporting the best radio chatter from each race, no conversation has approached the heights of philosophic argument or crisis of conscience as this evening's discussion between Dale Jr. and his car chief and cousin, Tony Eury Jr.

Dale Jr. (on lap 139, during a caution period) "I think I will have to help Michael win this race."

Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "It's up to you, but that'd be like the Cowboy's winning because the Redskin's let 'em"

Dale Jr.: "Junior, this ain't football it's about me and my teammates. It's about making DEI the one to beat because we kicked their (butts) again. Right now, that's what I'm thinking about."

Tony Jr: "I am just thinking about the last race (at Talladega in April - where Dale Jr. led Waltrip across the finish line) where he said he was doin' everything to try to get past you. If you would have gotten caught in traffic, he would have blown right past ya. I mean, we're all a family at DEI. But we're a team here in this pit. And they are another team down there. You have a bunch of guys here in red that have worked their (butts) off until 11 o'clock each night so we can win this thing."

Dale Jr: "Alright then (long pause) Junior, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to try and win?"

Tony Jr.: "Yes. I want you to win If you drive like you can drive, you're gonna win this race."

Dale Jr.: "Alright. I'm with you"

After making his bid for the lead, Dale Jr. dropped all the way to sixth place, but was unable to climb back to the front when a yellow flag on the next lap sealed his finishing position.

Dale Jr. (disgusted) "I think I just got what I ($#&^*#^%) deserved right there"

Tony Jr.: "Hey man, all of us here appreciated that move. You were goin' for the win."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, but now I feel like an $#*hole."

Tony Jr: "We appreciate it. You went for it. You did the right thing."

Ty Norris (spotter and DEI general manager): "Alright everybody get off this radio. Everybody worked hard and we had a great car. Dale Jr. you did what you had to do to win for your team and DEI. It was tough, but you did the right thing."

Today's Stats
Started: 9th
Finished: 6th
Points Position: 15th
Money Won: $105,537
Laps Led: 1 (lap 118)
Best Pit Stop: Lap 60 / 4 tires and Fuel / 14.79 seconds

-dei/Budweiser-

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