Fontana: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Biffle Best at Fontana Tire Woes Make it a Loooong 500 for Dale Jr. Greg Biffle won Sunday's Auto Club 500 at California Speedway in Fontana. Jimmie Johnson finished second while Kurt Busch finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 ...

Biffle Best at Fontana
Tire Woes Make it a Loooong 500 for Dale Jr.

Greg Biffle won Sunday's Auto Club 500 at California Speedway in Fontana. Jimmie Johnson finished second while Kurt Busch finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team had a rough afternoon, suffering from a series of flat left front tires to finish the day in the 32nd position, 13 laps behind Biffle.

Key Moments:

Starting 40th - his worst qualifying position since the final race of the 2000 season - Dale Jr. and the Bud team steadily climbed forward into the top-25 until lap 36 when the left front tire went flat exiting turn two. The stop to replace left-side tires dropped the No. 8 bunch one lap down, but the car remained fast until an almost identical tire problem hit again on lap 58. The team was forced to make four stops to make repairs, including replacing the fender braces on the car which were damaged when the first flat tire shredded. Then, it was racing's version of the movie Groundhog Day as the red Bud car forced to the pits multiple times for repairs, eventually dropping eight laps behind the leaders by lap 110. From that point forward, the race became an extended test session for the Bud team.

The poor finish drops Dale Jr. to the 14th position in Nextel Cup points, breaking a string of 70 consecutive races in the Top-10. It had been the longest active streak and one of the 10 best all-time streaks in the modern era.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"The first couple of runs weren't too bad. We were going to the front. The car was good, but then we had the troubles with the left front and the car would just hook when it turned. It was like it was spinnin' out. In those first two runs, the car was pretty good. I wish we knew what was causing those flats. I felt like we could have hung in there and moved up with track position. We were alright. Even late in the race we made it more comfortable so I could race harder. I know it's a cliche' when ya don't run good, but we really did test some things there in the second-half of the race. I think both Pete (Rondeau, crew chief) and I learned a lot. I think we learned some things that will help us down the road."

"I'm proud of the team and with how hard they worked. They've given Michael good pit stops for years, and they're doing the same for me. I screwed up qualifying, that was my fault and it put us way back at the start, but we were coming to the front... It's a long season and we'll only get better."

About the series of blown tires:

"I still can't believe it. It's gotta be something in the suspension or camber. Pete could probably tell you a lot more about it I guess. I mean the temperatures on the outside edge of the tire were more than 300 degrees and the inside temperatures were about 180 degrees. You know that's not gonna work. It's gonna blow..."

Best Radio Chatter:

Despite frustrating tire problems, the radio chatter remained quiet and calm on lap 36:

Dale Jr. (calm, considering the high-speed balancing act on 3 tires): "Comin' in. Left front is flat."

Steve Hmeil (spotter): "Good save Junior, good save."

Dale Jr.: "The left front was staying down on the track. I'd drive down deep and the left front stays planted."

Pete Rondeau (crew chief): "10-4. We're OK."

The tone remained calm during the second and almost identical flat tire incident on lap 59:

Dale Jr: "It's the same thing. Left front... it's tearing up the fender now..."

Rondeau: "10-4. Get the repair tape ready. Look inside that left front area. Check the brake line.

Dale Jr; "I've gotta good pedal. The brake pedal is good."

Rondeau: "Steve (Hmeil) let me know where the leader is (on the track, to avoid losing more laps). Guys - we don't need to make it pretty... don't make it pretty... When you put that brace back in, make sure the adjuster handle is away from the tire."

Hmeil: "There is a lot of debris on the track Pete, so we can take our time..."

Rondeau: "OK, Junior, catch back up to the field."

Dale Jr.: "Clean out the pit stall so I don't run over anything. I could use four new tires please, if ya can."

After another extended stop on lap 126 when the hood came up, and the team's mechanical difficulties multiplied.

Rondeau: "Is the oil pressure light on?"

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, but it may not be working at all. The first ignition box just went out."

Hmeil: (exasperated) "We're getting' it all out of the way in one race."

During yellow on lap 146:

Dale Jr: "Are we gonna try and turn this car around for the Las Vegas race?

Rondeau: "Yeah, that's the plan.

Dale Jr. "Alright, I'll try to keep it off the fence... We have a better car here than we did last year. I appreciate it. Keep that in mind when you're trying to figure out what's happening. It was driving really good until we had the left front issue."

Lap 187, when the race has become more of a test session for the Bud team.

Dale Jr ; "It's actually really snug, really good right here. It's good all the way through the corners. (Pause) Heh. Of course, as soon as I say that it was loose as hell through that last corner."

-dei-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson