Johnson Wins Again in Vegas, Dale Jr. 11th Bud Team Contends for Top-Five Finish Until Late Penalty Jimmie Johnson won the DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon, his third consecutive victory at the newly ...
Johnson Wins Again in Vegas, Dale Jr. 11th
Bud Team Contends for Top-Five Finish Until Late Penalty
Jimmie Johnson won the DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon, his third consecutive victory at the newly repaved 1.5-mile desert oval. Jeff Gordon finished second and Denny Hamlin was third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team ran strong throughout the 400-mile race and finished 11th. The finish, combined with the five bonus points for leading the race, moved the team twelve positions higher to 28th place in the standings after three races. Dale Jr. is now only 90 points behind 12th-place in points. (This year's Nextel Cup Chase for the Championship will include the top-12 drivers after 26 races.) The team was poised for a likely top-five finish until being penalized for making a pit stop while the pits were closed with 15 laps remaining. The penalty dropped Dale Jr. to the end of the longest line of cars on the restart, and he managed to fight his way through lapped traffic to gain several finishing positions in the final laps.
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 28th, needed only 10 laps to move into the top-20 and then jumped all the way to third-place by not making a pit stop following a yellow flag on lap 17. For the remaining laps, the team dropped out of the top-10 only after making pit stops. After making a four-tire stop on lap 174 (of 267 total laps), Dale Jr. restarted in 11th place, but was consistently the quickest car on the track after the green flag, picking off position-after-position until taking the lead on lap 212. Following another four-tire stop, a top-five finish seemed likely, as Dale Jr. was closing fast on Jeff Burton for fourth-place when the yellow flag flew on lap 251. On the following lap, Dale Jr. followed Burton onto pit lane, and was penalized for making a stop while pit lane was closed. Restarting at the back of the pack in 13th place, Dale Jr. weaved and bobbed through lapped traffic, picking off several positions to grab 11th place at the finish.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"I'm pleased overall. Anybody that leaves this weekend without a wrecked racecar should feel lucky. I'm glad to get out of here with a decent finish and a car that could run in the top-five. The track was very slick and very rough, and I was just out there hangin' on and drivin' my ass off every lap. I think everybody was... I saw some miraculous saves out there - I mean world-class, top-10 unbelievable saves - right in front of me. Guys that should have crashed every corner and didn't. The track was outta control because it's a new surface and it was hot and slick and nasty. But, we still had a good car and we had some really superb pit stops. We all had to deal with the conditions, and it seemed like we could run with just about anybody on long runs."
About the pit lane penalty while in fifth place: "I don't like making mistakes. I don't like having any part of 'em. But that was a mistake to come down pit lane. We were talking on the radio about staying out because there was less than 20 laps left, but there weren't that many cars on the lead lap. So (crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. said 'I'm thinkin' about pitting here and taking some tires,' so that's what I'm thinking in my mind. You have to make decisions like that to have a chance to win the race. But, I just followed the 31 car (Jeff Burton) down pit lane because he was the lead lap car right in front of us. I forgot he was having some sort of engine trouble and needed to pit right then. I never saw the (pit lane) light or the flag. I was just focused on following him and didn't realize the pits were closed until it was too late."
Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr. and the Bud team struggled all afternoon with radio transmissions, switching repeatedly between their primary and back-up radio frequencies. This resulted in far less chatter than usual for Driver No. 8 and the crew, other than "I can't hear ya..." or "radio check 1-2-3-4..."
The key chatter took place as the race neared an end with Dale Jr. in fifth place and closing fast on the cars in front of him with less than 20 laps remaining.
Dale Jr: "How are we doin' on the rest of those guys (ahead of us)?"
Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "You're doin' good. Doin' good. You are catching those guys in front of you."
Dale Jr: "When we took two tires, it made the car too tight. The car is tight as hell."
Tony Jr: "10-4. You're doin' good. Just stay in your line."
Steve Hmiel (spotter): "The 31 (car) is down a cylinder."
Eury Jr.: "Yeah. That's what it sounded like when he went by here."
The yellow flag soon flew on lap 251.
Dale Jr: "How are we on gas?"
Eury Jr: "We'll be fine."
Dale Jr.: (still fighting poor radio reception) "Are we OK... or will we be short?"
Eury Jr.: "We'll be OK."
Dale Jr.: "OK, not pitting then? Who's comin? (Which cars were catching us?)
Hmiel: "The 99 (Carl Edwards). The 99 was catching us just a little but I think that's all. Anybody else?"
Eury Jr: "I'm almost thinking we need to pit here for tires. With this many cars on the lead lap..."
Hmiel: (as the 8 car follows the 31 onto pit lane): "Pit lane is closed! Pit lane is closed!"
Dale Jr: "He was a lead lap car! I just came down with him. I wasn't paying attention."
Eury Jr: "These things kick our ass all the time. We gotta pay more attention. The NASCAR official says we need to start at the back of the outside line on the restart."
Dale Jr.: "We'll probably get another caution."