Homestead: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Dale Jr. 23rd at Homestead, Finishes 5th in Points Chase Greg Biffle wins race, Kurt Busch championship Greg Biffle led 117 of 271 laps but needed a late pass of Tony Stewart on a green-white-checkered restart to win Sunday's season finale ...

Dale Jr. 23rd at Homestead, Finishes 5th in Points Chase
Greg Biffle wins race, Kurt Busch championship

Greg Biffle led 117 of 271 laps but needed a late pass of Tony Stewart on a green-white-checkered restart to win Sunday's season finale Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Jimmie Johnson finished second and Jeff Gordon third, neither of which were good enough to overtake fifth-place finisher Kurt Busch for the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship. Busch managed the top-five despite a broken wheel early in the race and, as a result, beat Johnson by eight points, the smallest margin in NASCAR history. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team struggled to a 23rd-place finish, fighting a poor-handling car that at times got better but never good enough to run with the leaders. As a result, Mark Martin surpassed Dale Jr. for fourth in the standings, bumping the Bud driver to fifth, 138 points behind Busch. Dale Jr. ends his 2004 campaign with six wins, 16 top-fives and 21 top-10s, all of which set or tied career-bests.

Key Moments:

Starting 16th, Dale Jr. and the Bud team chased the handle on their No. 8 Chevrolet all day, occasionally getting it good enough to break into the top-10 but never enough to last over a series of green-flag runs. With the race plagued by 13 cautions, the Bud team opted for a game of pit strategy, electing to stretch its fuel mileage by not pitting under the ninth caution and create a one-stop scenario the rest of the way. But the deteriorating handle changed that strategy, as the Bud car became extremely loose - almost too loose to drive. A culprit to the sudden condition could have been Dale Jr.'s front-end contact with Travis Kvapil on lap 164, or possibly the piece of metal he ran over on lap 197. The Bud team pitted twice under the 11th caution and again under the 12th, that time taking only two tires and continuing drastic changes to tighten up the car. It didn't help, as Dale Jr. dropped from 16th on the lap-231 restart to 23rd in the final 40 laps.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"Frustrating day, but the year was great. Our expectations coming into this race were just to have fun, because we pretty much knew (winning the championship) was a long shot. The 97 (Busch), 24 (Gordon) and 48 (Johnson) - those three teams are nearly bulletproof, especially at a track like this. But I'm not worried about it. I'm proud of my team. We had good days, and we had bad days, but we battled and put together our best season ever. The car today was good at one point, but it didn't stay that way. Something happened to it; not sure where or when, but it caused it to shake so bad that it was un-drivable. We'll figure out what happened when we get back to the shop, and try to get better next year.

On final thoughts of the Chase for the Championship, now that the season is over:

"I liked it. It was exciting, and it came down to the final laps, which is pretty cool I think. Any of those guys up there could have won it. Congratulations to Kurt and his team. They did what it took all year long, and that's what you got to do. I'm proud of 'em. We'll regroup in the off-season, and in 91 days we'll do it all over again. Looking forward to it."

Best Radio Chatter:

While much of the radio chatter was directed specifically at improving the Bud car, team members broke form during a lengthy caution period due to sporadic spurts of rain:

Tony Eury Sr. (looking skyward): "Come on man up there, this is Florida!"

Dale Jr. (in his best disciplinarian voice): "Tony Eury Sr., report to the gate. Heh heh heh."

Dale Jr.: "Any reason to pit for gas here?

Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "No, we'd still be 10 laps short (of the fuel window)."

Dale Jr.: "You sound like a MIT graduate talking -- like you're a nerd."

Tony Jr.: "Nope, all I said is we're about 10 laps short."

Dale Jr.: "I'll be glad when we go green; I won't have to do so much."

During the sixth caution, Dale Jr.'s impatience started showing again:

Dale Jr.: "It's hard to believe this place and Rockingham are the same amount of laps. This goes by fast. Rockingham feels like the 24 Hours of LeMans."

Tony Jr.: "You mean Darlington."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, Rockingham, Darlington -- same thing."

Tony Jr.: "Pops (Tony Sr.) said he could've gone and ate two sandwiches by now."

Dale Jr.: "What, Pops doesn't stay in the pits the whole time?"

Tony Jr.: "No, he said he gets bored with us."

Dale Jr: "Man, if it were me, I'd be at South Beach."

Tony Sr. (referring back to Dale Jr.'s prior comment): "I'm at the gates."

-dei-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Tony Stewart , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Tony Eury Jr. , Mark Martin , Travis Kvapil