Loudon: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Ward Burton wins with track position and fuel mileage. Earnhardt Jr. and No. 8 Budweiser Team lead 43 laps, fall victim to late crash. Ward Burton, who has struggled since winning the season-opening Daytona 500, returned to the winner's circle...

Ward Burton wins with track position and fuel mileage.
Earnhardt Jr. and No. 8 Budweiser Team lead 43 laps, fall victim to late crash.

Ward Burton, who has struggled since winning the season-opening Daytona 500, returned to the winner's circle Sunday in the New Hampshire 300 at Loudon. Burton grabbed the win after milking the fuel in his tank over the final laps of the race. Jeff Green was second, followed by Dale Jarrett in third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team were among the fastest cars from start to finish, but an on-track incident with the car of Todd Bodine sent the red Bud car spinning across the infield grass and into the inside wall with less than 20 laps to go. The Bud team were able to make repairs and stay on the lead lap, and then Dale Jr. drove like a madman in the final 15 laps to regain eight positions and earning a 23rd place finish. Dale Jr. led the race three times for 43 laps.

The Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 28th, wasted little time rocketing toward the front of the field from the green flag, gaining ten positions in the first two laps. By lap 38, the Budweiser car was in the top 10, and then took the lead for the first time on lap 74. For the next 200 laps, Dale Jr. dueled among the leaders, seemingly taking the lead at-will and squaring off with the No. 17 car of Matt Kenseth as the two dominant players. In the final 100 laps, a variety of yellow flags created a mixed-bag of fuel and pit strategies, and dropped Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth deep into the field when the race restarted with 61 laps to go. Dale Jr. climbed from 15th to eighth by the next caution flag on lap 271, and was racing for sixth place with Todd Bodine when Bodine cut-off the red Bud car in turn two and sent Dale Jr. spinning in the infield grass. Dale Jr. dropped to 31st place after the crash, but despite a mangled car, was able to provide one of his more aggressive driving displays of the season, gaining eight spots in the final 12 laps.

Dale Jr's Quotes: "That was damn good fun today. We had a top-three car all day, and I think the crew deserves the credit for making some changes this morning that really made a difference in the race car. We were really fast, and that makes it a great day even though the finish won't show it."

About the incident with Bodine: "We were all racin' like crazy there. He was blockin' me and I got into the back of him pretty hard a few laps before that, so I guess he saw his chance to get me back. I really should have - or could have - spun him out but I tried to avoid doin' that and it bit me. It's one of those split-second moments where the end of the race is right there in front of ya, and everyone is really racin' hard. That's how it goes."

About having a really fast car but having to battle through the field because of various pit strategies and the late crash: "You can't control everything - especially when the yellow flags come out. I had no choice to be aggressive and try to get what I could because we were stuck back in like 15th with less than 50 laps to go. I wouldn't change a thing. Nothing. Our car was fast and our pit stops were good and that's the way you have to do it sometimes. I thought it was going to be a battle between me and Matt - like the ol' Busch Series days. That woulda been cool , but it was still fun to be up front and battling back and forth with him."

Best Radio Conversations

By the time the third caution flag fell, the race was only 29 laps old, yet Dale Jr. had improved from 28th starting position to 12th place. Under the caution, he began to wonder about his fast race car.

Dale Jr. "I'm getting off the corners so good. That's how I'm passin' everybody. I have to use the brakes to turn it in the middle of the corner. I mean, I almost come to a stop. I hope no one spins us out in the middle there, but if I can keep doin' that, I can rocket off the turns and pass 'em. Check that out every once in awhile, alright Joey?

Joey Meier (spotter and DEI pilot, filling-in for usual spotter Ty Norris, who was attending a family wedding) "10-4. You're getting in there really well, no one has been close to spinning you."

Dale Jr: "Hey! Are they talkin' about us on TV yet?!"

Dale Jr. swept into the lead on lap 74, and then slowed for a yellow flag on the following lap.

Joey Meier: "Great job, Dale Jr. If they weren't talkin' about ya before, they sure are now!"

Dale Jr: "Whooooooooohoooooooooooooo!" I LIKE runnin' good!"

Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "The fans like it too. They're going crazy every time you pass somebody."

Almost immediately, the new surface on the New Hampshire track began crumbling under the power of the Winston Cup cars and the heat of the sun. During a yellow-flag period on lap 121, NASCAR officials decided to use street cleaners and jet blowers to try to clean some of the debris on the circuit to make the track safer and encourage more side-by-side racing.

Dale Jr: "If they blow that (stuff) UP the track, it'd be a lot better, Right now they're blowing it down into the groove, so all we're doing is picking it up on our tires and dropping it back on the groove somewhere else! (Turns) one and two aren't too bad, but three and four are awful. That's what crashed Tony (Stewart)."

Tony Jr. "Uh 10-4 on that, but NASCAR says if they blew the debris up the track, it'd go all over the fans!"

Dale Jr: (chuckling) "Oh yeah! The fans! Heh heh...Yeah, my bad. I forgot about the fans out there!"

Meier: "Unless we gave out 10,000 sets of safety goggles in that area. THEN they could do it."

Dale Jr.:(starting to refocus on the restart of the race) "You would not believe how loose this car is for two laps after the green. Then, just like that, it's back to how it was before. But, those first few laps, damn, it's loose! JUNIOR NO LIKEY!"

Today's Stats
Started: 28th
Finished: 23rd
Points Position: 16th
Money Won: $64,925
Laps Led: 3 times for 43 laps
Best Pit Stop: Lap 158 / 4 tires and Fuel / 14.04 seconds
(Until the final stop to repair crash damage, the Bud team completed four stops between 14.04 and 14.48 seconds in length for four tires and fuel.)

-dei/budweiser-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Ward Burton , Matt Kenseth , Todd Bodine , Jeff Green , Tony Eury Jr.