Bobby Labonte Wins, Dale Jr. 24th No. 8 Budweiser Team 'Unofficial' Pit Crew Champions Bobby Labonte won Sunday's Ford 400 at Miami-Homestead Speedway, taking the lead on the final lap of the season when the dominant car of Bill Elliott slowed...
Bobby Labonte Wins, Dale Jr. 24th
No. 8 Budweiser Team 'Unofficial' Pit Crew Champions
Bobby Labonte won Sunday's Ford 400 at Miami-Homestead Speedway, taking the lead on the final lap of the season when the dominant car of Bill Elliott slowed with a cut tire. Kevin Harvick finished second while Jimmie Johnson finished third. The No. 8 Budweiser team and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished the 2003 season with a disappointing day, finishing 24th, but locked-up a career-best third place finish in the Winston Cup point standings. Although NASCAR will not make the results official for several days, the No. 8 Bud team secured the 2003 McDonald's Drive-Thru Pit Crew Championship. The team entered the day tied for the lead in the pit crew competition with their Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammates on the No. 15 NAPA team, who dropped out of today's race on lap 72. The pit crew championship is worth $200,000 in prize money. In addition, the No. 8 team won the weekly pit competition five times this year for an additional $100,000.
The Key Moments: Dale Jr. started 38th, then gradually worked his way through traffic on the new high-banked Homestead surface. He first cracked the top-20 on lap 36, then clawed as high as 13th position on lap 47 before beginning to experience tire and handling problems with the Budweiser car. The team struggled all afternoon to get the car to turn efficiently into the corners, causing the car to push, and damaging the left front tire during each run. Dale Jr. was as high as 12th position on lap 182 (of 267) before he was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 186, dropping two laps behind the leaders. After dropping as low as 30th, Dale Jr, managed to hang on for the remaining laps to finish 24th.
Dale Jr. Quotes: "It feels like the last day of school. I'm goin' home to celebrate. We were never very good today, but third-place in points is something I'm really proud of. It shows what a great season we had, how much we improved as a team and how we were able to run competitively week-after-week, a lot more consistent than before. We wanted to win the championship, but third is something we can really build on."
"It's a great track but we never hit on the set-up. We tore up the left-front tire every time. We could only do about 45 laps before the left front would start coming apart, and that's how we lost the two laps. We had a top-10 car as far as speed, but we made that one unscheduled stop and it just killed us.... (runs off to douse 2003 Winston Cup champion Matt Kenseth with a bottle of orange Powerade)... It's a fun track, and it produced some wild moments out there. It was almost a big wreck every lap..."
Crew Chief Tony Eury Sr. (already looking ahead to 2004): "Tell ya what boys, we've got some testing to do..."
Best Radio Conversations
The struggle with an evil machine didn't stop an occasional moment of
levity during the race...
Dale Jr: (on lap 124, during a yellow-flag period) "Where's Matt (Kenseth) been all day?"
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "He blew up on lap 28..."
Ty Norris (spotter): "They won the championship just like you did in the Busch Series. They clinched and then came here (to Homestead) and blew up. But, he didn't jump out of the car and dive into his crew's arms, so you still win on style points..."
Dale Jr: (returning to the topic of his ill-handling car) "Are you guys gonna build me a ramp so I can shoot out of here backwards when I spin out? It's like we're one adjustment away, and then POW! -- it goes away. It's not a big push -- but it's alllll the waaaaay around the corner..."
After making an unscheduled stop to replace disintegrating tires...
Dale Jr. "I'm sorry guys. It felt really bad..."
Tony Jr: "You're OK. You're the one that knows how it feels. It's torn up the left front every time..."
Dale Jr.: "I wanna know what y'all are thinking on these changes..."
Tony Jr: "We're two laps down and we can only do 45 laps without tearing up these tires. You're gonna need that ramp if we don't keep giving you tires. I don't wanna see you crash into the wall."
Dale Jr: "I don't wanna hit the wall either, but we have a car that coulda finished in the top-10 today...What I'm seeing in the car and what you're seeing on the pit box -- we've got a difference of opinion about what's happening."
Tony Eury Sr. (crew chief): "Dale Jr., we're doin' the best we can to help the car..."
Dale Jr; "How bad are the tires?"
Tony Jr: "Bad. There's chunks as big as 50-cent pieces all the way around the tire..."
Dale Jr: (pause) "That's bad..."
Tony Jr: "We're gonna keep racing like we're racing and get all the spots we can get. We'll be fine..."
Dale Jr. in the Budweiser Hot Seat on ESPN Sportscenter: Watch Dale Jr. as he sits in the Budweiser Hot Seat on ESPN Sportscenter this Wednesday. The segment will be seen on Sportscenter at 6pm (ET), 11pm, 1am (Thu. AM) and the seemingly endless replays throughout Thursday morning.
Celeb Sightings: The highlight of Dale Jr's day was a surprise, pre-race meeting with his favorite boxer, Arturo "Thunder" Gatti, former world lightweight and welterweight boxing champion. Gatti, also known as 'the human highlight film,' watched much of the race from the Budweiser pit area.
2003 in the Rearview:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 team had the best season of their brief Winston Cup career in 2003.
(In 2003, Dale Jr. also won three races in three starts with the Chance 2 Busch Series team he co-owns.)
Nothing's better than a cold Bud at the end of a long day. Unless you drink one while logging in to www.Budweiser.com for all of the latest Dale Jr. news, games, music, short films and more! Your race team. Your beer. True.