Gas Gamble Pays for Stewart, Dale Jr. Tenth Bud Team Leads 18 Laps at Kansas, Remain 7th in Points Tony Stewart and his team gambled on fuel mileage at the end of Sunday's Banquet 400 at Kansas Speedway, and while the car ran out of fuel on ...
Gas Gamble Pays for Stewart, Dale Jr. Tenth
Bud Team Leads 18 Laps at Kansas, Remain 7th in Points
Tony Stewart and his team gambled on fuel mileage at the end of Sunday's Banquet 400 at Kansas Speedway, and while the car ran out of fuel on the final lap, Stewart still managed to coast across the finish line with the victory. Casey Mears and Mark Martin also gambled on fuel mileage to finish second and third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team finished tenth. The Bud bunch had a superb racecar much of the afternoon, leading 18 laps and running in the top three until the car was damaged by flying debris near the halfway mark of the race. The debris - half of a spring rubber - knocked a hole approximately eight inches in diameter in the nose of the Bud Chevy, and hampered the handling of the car the remainder of the afternoon. Despite the damage and several lengthy pit stops to attempt to repair the hole, the team managed to work back into the top-five before pitting for fuel and two tires on lap 252 of 267. The finish is the 13th top-10 of the year and is also the 13th race led for Earnhardt Jr. The finish keeps Dale Jr. seventh in the Nextel Cup Chase for the Championship with seven races remaining. He is now 123 points behind points leader Jeff Burton, but only 54 points behind second place, rookie Denny Hamlin. The 18 laps led earned the first bonus points scored by the Bud team in the first three Chase races this season.
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 12th, established the tone early in the race by going three-wide to leap past Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon into ninth place on lap 6. Dale Jr. made his way to fifth by lap 41, then to second less than 10 laps later. Utilizing a superb pit stop, Dale Jr. took the lead on lap 62 by exiting pit lane ahead of the field. Dale Jr. led easily despite some concern about running over debris under the caution period. The damage was minimal, but was a foreshadowing of what was to come, as the car suffered much more severe damage on lap 124, when the aforementioned spring rubber caused a crater in the nose of the car and became lodged in front of the radiator. The team was able to temporarily patch the hole on the next pit stop on lap 146, but the car never handled as well for the remainder of the afternoon. After a pit stop on lap 195, the team was again back into the top-five but was forced to pit for fuel and two tires on lap 252. The stop dropped them to 20th position, but they managed to regain spots as much of the rest of the field stopped for fuel or ran out.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"That was a year's worth of action in one day. I'm exhausted. It was hard work out there, but I had to match the effort of my whole team. I'm not happy to finish 10th - but I'm really, really happy with the great car we had and happy run up front most of the day. We just got beat on fuel mileage. It happens. After we got that huge hole in the nose, I never could get it to turn like it did early in the day. We were so tight, I guess I was trying to add a rubber to the front end by runnin' over one on the track."
"It was a good day - a good car. And great pit stops all day. Those guys are really on their game. I am so proud of the effort of my guys. We were better than a 10th-place car and they deserve to finish in the top-three, but the scoreboard doesn't always show how good your team is. They got me out of the pits in the lead, so the bonus points were absolutely earned by my crew. We did gain a lot of points on some of the guys in the Chase, but we finished behind Burton so we're a few points further out of first place. What can you do? We couldn't make it on fuel, and the car was just too tight to pass the 99 (C. Edwards) and the 20 (Stewart) without stopping for fresh tires. That was the strategy for us at the end: take tires and then try to make up time while they were on older tires. It would have worked if they would have stopped fuel as well."
Best Radio Chatter:
With a very fast car, the Bud team led 18 laps, but twice fell victim to flying debris. The first incident took place on lap 67.
Dale Jr: "I just center punched something with the valence! It looked like a 4x4 of something"
Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "OK, we'll give it an eye when you come by."
Steve Hmiel (spotter): "It does have a little dent, but it's OK. You'll be fine. I can't see anything major with the binoculars."
The concern switched to conditions inside the car on lap 83:
Dale Jr.: "The car's filling with smoke! I'm OK for now, but you may wanna find somebody (a relief driver) to stand by - It sounds goofy, but I don't know how much warning I'll be able to give ya."
Tony Jr: "If Atlanta is an indication, you get braver when you get gassed up." (laughing)
15 laps later:
Dale Jr: "OK, ain't got no smoke now."
Then, during the pit stop on lap 124:
Tony Jr: "You do have a big hole in the valence now. And it's knocked out the lower grille."
Hmiel: "That hole is new. It must have happened coming into the pit because it wasn't there the last lap!"