Earnhardt Jr, Budweiser Atlanta II race report

Labonte Wins as Nadeau Runs Dry Dale Jr. Leads 171 Laps, Slides to Seventh With Debris in Eye Race leader Jerry Nadeau ran out of fuel on the final lap of the NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, handing the victory to Bobby Labonte.

Labonte Wins as Nadeau Runs Dry
Dale Jr. Leads 171 Laps, Slides to Seventh With Debris in Eye

Race leader Jerry Nadeau ran out of fuel on the final lap of the NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, handing the victory to Bobby Labonte. Sterling Marlin finished second while rookie Kevin Harvick finished third as Nadeau coasted across the finish line in fourth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team dominated the race, as they led seven different times for 171 (out of 325) laps. Dale Jr. fell back to a seventh-place finish in the closing laps of the event after debris became lodged in his left eye, causing him to drive with pain and discomfort. Dale Jr. was taken to the infield care center after the race, where his left eye was irrigated and cleaned of the debris. There was no serious injury to the eye. By finishing sixth, Jeff Gordon locked up his fourth Winston Cup championship with one race remaining.

The Key Moment: Starting from the Bud Pole position for the second time this season, Dale Jr. led the race much of the afternoon, leading 171 laps and setting a torrid pace. The middle and late stages of the race were spectacular, as Earnhardt Jr. dueled closely with Nadeau, Labonte and Tony Stewart on the ultra-fast, multi-grooved track. The Bud team provided brilliant pit stops all afternoon, and sent Dale Jr. back onto the track in first place with their last pit stop of the day on lap 262. Following the pit stop, Dale Jr. requested that medical staff needed to be available as soon as possible after the race to assist in removing the material from his eye. Driving with one eye open, Dale Jr. was able to hang on for the remaining 52 laps, sliding from the lead to seventh place.

Dale Jr's Quotes:

"I was driving as hard as I could all day. That was great fun running with those guys. Our car was tight in the middle - the car wouldn't turn in the center of the corners - so we'd run the high line, and it seemed like we could hold 'em off most of the time when they'd try to go low. We could get a run on 'em off the turns and keep the lead down the straights. That was fun."

"I was trying my best at the end, and I was really struggling. I was just hoping I wasn't gonna wreck myself or especially anybody else. Somehow, we hung on there"

Radio Chatter (the best moments of radio conversation during the race)

Though the car was superb through much of the day, Dale Jr. experienced some early problems within the cockpit. During a yellow flag period beginning on lap 120, Dale Jr. reported a runaway water bottle that had broken free of its mount.

Dale Jr: "Hey -this water bottle is flying around in here. Can I just throw it out?"
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "Uhhhhh well. Wait. Let's check with an official first. We don't want NASCAR penalizing us for throwing [litter] on the track"
Dale Jr: "Let me know, 'cause it's just rolling all around."
Tony Jr. : "OK, they say you can throw it out at the end of the pit lane here when you come by next lap."
Ty Norris (spotter): (joking) "If we win this race, Action [Performance, which produces most NASCAR souvenir items] can produce a special die-cast with the flying water bottle accessory"
Dale Jr.: "Alright. Let's make sure it doesn't happen again, 'cause if that would have hit me on the arm I don't wanna know what would have happened at these speeds"

The team provided Dale Jr. with a superb pit stop to send him out on the track in the lead after what would be the final stop of the day. Once the stop was done, Dale Jr. radioed in with a distress call.

Dale Jr.: "Alright, I gotta little emergency here. A medical emergency. I have a big ol' chunk of metal in my left eye. I tried to get it myself but I can't. As soon as this race is over, I need to get it out as soon as possible. Make sure someone is there to take it out as quick as they can. Make sure that happens."

Race Notes / NAPA 500

Points Points Points
Despite gaining ten bonus points for leading the most laps, Dale Jr. dropped one spot to eighth place as the race winner Bobby Labonte vaulted past Jr. and Rusty Wallace in the standings with one race left. As it has been all season, positions two through 10 are extremely tight. Among the top 10, only this year's champion Jeff Gordon has secured his final points position, while next week's results could vault Dale Jr. as high as sixth or as low as 10th place in the final tally.

Today's Stats
Started: 1st
Finished: 8th
Money Won: $122,123
Points Position: 8th
Laps Led: 7 times for 171 laps
Best Pit Stop: Lap 201 / 4 tires and Fuel / 13.05 seconds


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Harvick , Jerry Nadeau , Tony Eury Jr.