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Daytona Shootout: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

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Daytona Shootout: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report
Feb 13, 2006, 6:24 PM

Rookie Denny Hamlin Wins Budweiser Shootout Dale Jr. Claims Third Runner-Up Finish in Six Career Shootout Starts Rookie Denny Hamlin, who became eligible for the 2006 Budweiser Shootout by winning a Bud Pole Award in one of his seven starts last ...

Rookie Denny Hamlin Wins Budweiser Shootout
Dale Jr. Claims Third Runner-Up Finish in Six Career Shootout Starts

Rookie Denny Hamlin, who became eligible for the 2006 Budweiser Shootout by winning a Bud Pole Award in one of his seven starts last season, pulled off an upset by winning the season-opening all-star race Sunday night under the lights at Daytona International Speedway. Hamlin led 16 of 70 laps and held off NASCAR's best in a green-white-checkered finish to claim the victory. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team finished second and Tony Stewart third. Dale Jr. has now finished first or second in four of his six Shootout starts, increasing his series-best average among all active drivers with more than one start to 3.3. It was his 23rd top-five in 35 races at Daytona (non-points races and Busch Series races included).

Key Moments: Dale Jr. finished the first 20-lap segment in 14th after being swept into a multi-car wreck on lap 15. The Budweiser Chevy sustained minor damage, but was bounced around enough to need two lengthy pit stops under caution for repairs, and extensive inspection during the 10-minute intermission. With his steering corrected, his left-side quarter-panels straightened, and suspension intact, Junior made a charge early in the final segment into second place. A green-flag pit stop on lap 49 shuffled him back to 12th, but he quickly found his way into the top-five by lap 54. Earnhardt pulled aside Stewart for second and was bidding for the lead when the race's fourth caution flew, setting up a green-white-checkered finish, to which Junior made a sweeping pass of Stewart on the final turn for the runner-up finish.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"It was a Shootout, not a 500-mile race. Everybody goes for it. I had a great time racing out there with Tony (Stewart). Me and Tony can beat and bang pretty much anywhere -- Daytona, Martinsville, it don't matter. Congratulations to Denny. I was real proud to see him get the win. He had a great car. His whole team did a good job. We had a great car too. We got a little bit of that crash on the back straightaway. We bent some stuff on the front end, and it didn't really drive good after that. My team worked real hard to get me out there where I could run fast and do what it took."

On finding drafting partners:

"The race was so short we didn't really get a chance to work with a lot of people, and nobody else really wanted to be a friend, everybody wanted to win. That's totally understandable... just a lot of guys out there having a good time. It got real hairy there at times. Tony turned me sideways off of (turn) two. He's lifting, but he can't help it because the guy behind him is pushing him. It's a dangerous situation. We probably crashed 15 or 20 times tonight (laughing), but the 500 won't be like that. We'll be a lot more patient. But this is the Shootout. That's the way it's going to be. I would liked to have been up front all night, but we couldn't get there. Just a lot of traffic and a lot of great cars in front of us."

On racing Tony Stewart:

"It was just all-out racing. That's fun to me. Those last laps we were side-by-side, beatin' and bangin', just going for the win. It was so much fun that I forgot there was a guy in front of us. There are guys you feel comfortable racing with, and that's just the way I feel when I'm racing around Tony. I thought we'd be able to get by Denny, but Denny did such an awesome job. He used his head, stayed patient, and remained calm. It's not easy being in the catbird seat like that."

Best Radio Chatter:

Moments after strapping into the Budweiser Chevrolet:

Dale Jr.: (to his crew) "I hope y'all are as fired up as I am. Hell yeah! I finally get to race! I've been waiting all winter!"

***

Steve Hmiel returned to the #8 spotter's stand for the first time in almost a year, and Dale Jr.'s instructions to him were specific in the early stages of the race:

Dale Jr.: "Steve, you can't talk enough. You need to be talking, talking, talking. Think about it like this -- the more you say what's going on around me, the better I'm gonna do."

***

Later in the race...

Dale Jr.: "Talk to me Steve. Always say something. Talk more. If you're afraid to say something, make something up. Just keep talking. There's a lot of (stuff) goin' on out here. It's time to go -- we gotta go to the front. I breathe, when you breathe, buddy."

***

After a four-car accident on lap 15, which collected Dale Jr.:

Dale Jr.: "I didn't slide any tires or anything. I hit pretty hard on the left-front wheel, but that's it. That's the only thing I hit wheel-wise. (Pause). You're definitely going to wanna take a look in there."

Tony Jr.: "Get ready guys, we're comin' in. Get the quarter panel fixed right. Get it over top the tire there.'

Steve Hmiel: "You did a real good job missing that wreck, June."

Dale Jr.: "It was a helluva save. I don't know if you got to see it. I started lifting for them crashing, and I got turned in the quarterpanel -- turned sideways -- and I thought we were big-time screwed, and someone hit me and straightened me out in the left front. And then I got crossed up in the grass a little bit, but came out on the other end better than some of them guys. The car is driving is OK. I think it might have a little tow, something like a quarter-inch, but that's about it. The car's steering is pretty straight."

***

With Junior in fifth place and the laps closing down, strategy became a factor, as spotters began communicating with each other about their drivers' intentions:

Hmiel: "Junebug, the 6 (Mark Martin) wants to know if you're going to go high when they restart."

Dale Jr.: "I'm going to fake high and go low." (After pulling off the move):

Hmiel: "Wow! Pretty move. Now go get that 12 car."

***

With the checkered flag waving, Dale Jr. was unsure of his finish:

Dale Jr.: "I beat him (Stewart), didn't I? Did I beat the 20?"

Tony Jr.: "Yessir, and that's a good omen. We finished second in the Shootout the time we won the 500."

-dei/budweiser-

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Daytona 500: Top two qualifiers, top rookie, part 1

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