Joliet: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Harvick wins Chicago again: Earnhardt Jr. and No. 8 Budweiser Team lead 81 laps, second consecutive top 10. Kevin Harvick, who has been having a miserable 2002 campaign, won the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway Sunday for the second ...

Harvick wins Chicago again: Earnhardt Jr. and No. 8 Budweiser Team lead 81 laps, second consecutive top 10.

Kevin Harvick, who has been having a miserable 2002 campaign, won the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway Sunday for the second straight season. Harvick grabbed his first victory of the year after not stopping for fuel under the final caution flag period, and then leading the final 20 green flag laps of the race. Jeff Gordon was second and Tony Stewart was third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team dominated segments of the race, leading four different times for a total of 81 (of 267) laps, but fell victim to yellow flag periods that ruined an aggressive pit strategy. When the set of tires on the car proved to be a handful despite still running in fourth position, the team chose to change four tires on their final stop on lap 242, while much of the rest of the field chose not to stop, or take fuel only. When the green flag fell for the final time, Dale Jr. was 11th, and was able to make up only one position in the final sprint to the finish. The top 10 is the team's second in a row, and moves them to 14th, one rung higher in the Winston Cup point standings.

The Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting ninth for the second consecutive weekend, began the race with a lot of confidence, as the No. 8 Bud car was sparkling during Saturday's two practice sessions. It took less than three laps to leap into the top five positions, and then Dale Jr. gradually moved forward from there, taking the lead for the first time on lap 57. From there, the red Bud car led the race for more than 80 laps, often running up to half-a-second faster than the rest of the field and dropping no lower than fourth place (other than during pit stops) until the final yellow flag of the day flew on lap 240. With a car that was no longer handling as well as before, the team believed a four-tire change was the only option to try and win the race in the final 20 laps, but the length of the stop dropped them to 11th place at the restart. Fighting heavy traffic, Dale Jr. was only able to regain one position before the checkered flag.

Dale Jr's Quotes: "I'm angry. We had an awesome car, and 10th place is no good. We could have won, but it is almost impossible to drive these cars in traffic. The cars just won't handle in traffic because the air upsets your aero(dynamic) package, and you can't do a thing when you're buried in the middle with lapped cars all around you. But, I'll tell ya, it was AWESOME most of the day. We knew we had a great car yesterday in practice, and it handled just like it did then, except the track was a little slicker. It felt so good to be out front and kicking (butt) again. That's where we should be every week, and it felt good to get back to the performance that we showed last year and early this season."

"We had to stop there at the end, we didn't have enough fuel to make it, and the guys felt like four tires was the only was we were gonna win. With that few laps left, it's almost impossible here to pass ten guys in front of you and all of the lapped cars too."

Best Radio Conversations
During the final yellow flag of the day, the team debated whether to take fuel only, take two fresh tires, or four fresh tires. After choosing to take four, Dale Jr. returned in 11th place. The following discussion took place before the green flag fell.

Dale Jr. "Where are we at? How may laps to go?"

Ty Norris (spotter): "You're 11th, and there will be about 21 to goâ^À¦"

Tony Eury (crew chief): "If this car is as good as it was earlier, you'll run 'em down, I promise you"

Dale Jr.: "I'll try but this is the hardest thing for a driver right here. It's hard cuz' you have lapped cars and cars with no (new) tires in front of you and inside of you It's a lot like a special challenge on a video game (in his best 'video game voice') "Can you pass the field in 25 laps?!" We're good - I'm sure, and we'll get a decent finish, but damn, it's hard. Track position is everything here"

Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "10-4. Do whatcha can. We're rebuilding our consistency here "

Tony Eury: "Good luck and do the best you can do"

Today's Stats
Started: 9th
Finished: 10th
Points Position: 14th
Money Won: $102,437
Laps Led: 4 times for 81 laps
Best Pit Stop:
Lap 242 / 4 tires and Fuel 14.44 seconds
*the four pits stops were each completed in less than 15 seconds

-dei/budweiser-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Tony Eury Jr.