Kenseth Wins at California, Short Day for Dale Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Bud Team Knocked Out Early with Engine Woes Matt Kenseth won the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway Sunday, completing the weekend sweep after he won last evening's...
Kenseth Wins at California, Short Day for Dale Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Bud Team Knocked Out Early with Engine Woes
Matt Kenseth won the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway Sunday, completing the weekend sweep after he won last evening's Busch Series race. It is the second year in a row Kenseth has won this race. He was followed across the finish line by Jeff Gordon in second and Jimmie Johnson in third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team began the race from a best-ever California starting position of fifth place, but their day went awry on lap 20 with a flat right front tire. After recovering from falling a lap down, the team suffered major engine problems on lap 67. After a lengthy stay in the garage for repairs, Dale Jr. returned to the track for less than 10 laps before the engine exploded for good, sending the Bud car spinning in turn number three. The team was credited with a 40th place finish after completing only 75 of the 250 laps. After two races, Dale Jr. is now unofficially 42nd in Nextel Cup points.
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 5th for the second consecutive week, had a fast car but bad luck during his brief afternoon run. After running among the top-10 for the first 19 laps, the Budweiser car suffered a flat right-front tire on the lap 20 restart. The slow crawl back to the pits sent the team one lap behind the leaders, but were able to race back onto the lead lap by staying immediately behind race leader Kenseth until the eventual race winner made a pit stop on lap 50. Once back on the lead lap, the Bud team benefited greatly when a caution flag on lap 54 caught nearly half of the field one lap down, placing the No. 8 car in the top-20 for the restart. Then, on the 67th lap, Dale Jr's fate matched that of his Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Martin Truex Jr., as a failure inside the engine ended his run much earlier than planned. The team made an interim attempt at repairs, returning to the track 45 laps behind the leaders, but the engine dramatically expired only six laps later, sending Dale Jr. and the Bud car spinning in turn three. Dale Jr. was uninjured, but the engine was deemed beyond terminal.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"I was really, really worried about the engines today because we blew two motors at the test in Las Vegas (in January) and I saw (teammate) Martin (Truex Jr.) blow up early on. We were able to get this one into the garage the first time without blowing it up like a grenade. If it's still intact, it's a lot easier for our guys to take it back to the shop and figure out what may be causing the problem. But, we went back out and it blew up big time. We're lucky to have next weekend off so we can spent that extra week figuring it out and be ready to race at Vegas. Everybody needs to keep their heads up and we'll figure it out.
"We had a really good car. The set-up was good, and we were able to hang with Matt (Kenseth, the race leader) after we had the flat tire even though we had a bad vibration from a loose wheel. That's a good sign because we knew we had a fast car that could run at the front. If we get this bad luck behind us, look out."
Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr. dropped one lap behind after suffering a flat right front tire on lap 20. He then stayed right behind the leader in order to take advantage of the free pass given to the first car one lap down. When the leader pitted, he didn't need the free pass, but knew he had caught a break when Sterling Marlin crashed on lap 54.
Dale Jr. (with urgency before the yellow flag was shown): "Someone's spinnin' here!"
Steve Hmiel (spotter): "The yellow is out."
Dale Jr: "Alright guys, I've got a vibration like a loose wheel. Let's check everything real good. Look over the (wheel) studs real close--. (after the pit stop): How do the wheels look?"
Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "You had one a little bit loose. Not too bad."
Dale Jr.: "10-4. Good job. Thanks. It's already a whole lot smoother. Good work. We're back in this now. "
Tony Jr: "There are 22 cars on the lead lap now. We're doin' good. Way to stay calm there driver."
After suffering engine problems and coasting to the pit lane:
Tony Jr: "Good job guys. We knew we might have had that problem, but we know what kind of car we had."
Dale Jr: "Thanks guys. Y'all did a good job settin' it up. Real proud of y'all."
Hmiel: "We'll be alright fellas"
Tony Jr: "Nobody hang your head. We had a good weekend overall."
The team made temporary repairs to the engine, but it exploded in a plume of smoke, fire and fluid only five laps after returning to the race.
Hmiel: "It blew up BIG that time, fellas."
Dale Jr. (after spinning several times in turn three without hitting the wall or another car): (in his best deadpan) "Heh Heh. Yeah, it was pretty big."
Hmiel: "You OK, June?"
Dale Jr.: "Yeah."
Hmiel: "There was a little bit of fire-- just oil. It's all out."