Defending Winston Cup Champion Dale Jarrett won his second race of the season Sunday at the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, N.C. Jeff Gordon was second, followed by Ricky Rudd in third. Starting...
Defending Winston Cup Champion Dale Jarrett won his second race of the season Sunday at the Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, N.C. Jeff Gordon was second, followed by Ricky Rudd in third. Starting from a career-worst 37th position, Dale Earnhardt Jr. sliced, diced and passed his way into the top 10 by lap 201 (of 393 total laps), but a bump from behind from rookie Kurt Busch sent the No. 8 Budweiser car careening hard into the turn two wall, ending any opportunity for a strong finish. Earnhardt Jr. was able to complete 301 laps, and finished 34th.
The Key Moment: Starting near the back of the field, Dale Jr. was able to move his way past 27 cars on his way into the top 10. Unfortunately, it was at that point when things started to go awry for the Budweiser team. An extra pit stop to repair a bent left front fender on lap 216 dropped the Bud chariot back to 26th position. Dale Jr. wasted no time slicing back through the field, gaining seven spots in 15 laps until being hit from behind by the Busch car. The team was able to make some repairs to the mangled heap, but after returning the track, Dale Jr. was unable to turn competitive lap times and withdrew with approximately 30 laps to go.
Dale Junior's Quotes: "We had a great car today. That car was baaaaaaaaaaad a**. We've never done that well at Rockingham in the Busch Series or with the Cup car, but I think we really found a set-up that can run up front. We were able to pass a lot of cars and were moving up through the pack. The car was really neutral - I could go high or low if I needed to."
About being crashed from behind: "I was just cruising. No, really, I was just hangin' out - just chilling out there - we were fast and I was moving up through there pretty easy. Havin' fun. I really don't know what happened. I know he (Kurt Busch) didn't mean to do that, he was racing hard and I guess I did that a lot when I was young. It sucks that we have a great race car all smashed on the left side."
About returning to the race in a damaged car and tailing Kurt Busch closely for a number of laps: "I would never, ever wreck him or spin him out. I just wanted him to know that I was back there and that I really hoped that he wouldn't do that to me again. We're cool though."
About contact with Jimmy Spencer on lap 174: "I did not mean to hit him at all. He was in front of me coming off of turn two and we were already on the back straight, and he checked up (slowed) for some reason. I could not get off the gas soon enough - I just wasn't ready for him to check up."
After an event that seemed to be a microcosm of the entire season for Dale Jr. and the Bud team, they ran strong but ran into trouble late in the day, falling one position to 16th in Winston Cup points. Mike Bliss was the top-finishing rookie for the second consecutive race.
The Budweiser team finished fourth (out of 35 teams) in Saturday's Union 76 Pit Crew Competition. The team's time of 19.083 seconds would have won any previous running of the annual competition between pit crews. "It's not bad for our first year in it," said Bud car chief Tony Eury Jr. "They better watch out for us in the future!"
Dale Jr. started 37th, the worst starting position of his 36-race Winston Cup career. It is the first time that the Budweiser team has been forced to use a provisional starting spot. The top 36 at each race qualify based on speed, while the remaining spots (37-43) are awarded based upon the Winston Cup point standings. The provisional system assures that the top teams and drivers will make the race even if they have problems during qualifying.