Kurt Busch Wins, Bud Team Finishes 31st Dale Jr. Drives First 61 Laps, Turns Bud Car Over to Truex Kurt Busch won Sunday's Siemens 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, beating Jeff Gordon across the finish line. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was...
Kurt Busch Wins, Bud Team Finishes 31st
Dale Jr. Drives First 61 Laps, Turns Bud Car Over to Truex
Kurt Busch won Sunday's Siemens 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, beating Jeff Gordon across the finish line. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to start the race despite painful burns suffered in a practice crash last week in an American LeMans Series Corvette. Earnhardt Jr. drove for the first 61 laps until a yellow flag flew, allowing him to bring the Budweiser car to the pits and place his young protege Martin Truex Jr. into the car to drive to the finish. The switch from Earnhardt Jr. to Truex, the current points leader in the NASCAR Busch Series, was completed in less than 38 seconds, allowing the 8 car to remain on the lead lap. Truex, driving in his first Nextel Cup competition. moved through the field until lap 139, when he was hit from behind by the car of Ken Schrader, sending him into the wall. The team dropped two laps behind the leaders, and finished 31st. Earnhardt Jr. earns the NASCAR Nextel Cup points for the finish, which allowed him to remain in second place in the standings.
Key Moments: After Truex practiced and then qualified the Bud car in the third position Friday, the injured Earnhardt Jr. turned eight practice laps on Saturday, and deemed himself physically able to start Sunday's race, then turn the wheel over to Truex at the first opportunity. (Truex is the first driver other than Dale Jr. to ever turn a lap in an official event in the No. 8 Budweiser car. Dale Jr. began driving the car in NASCAR's top circuit in 1999.) Despite the third-place qualifying effort, the driver change meant Dale Jr. was forced to start the race in the last position. He passed his way to the 30th position by lap 30. Earnhardt Jr. fell one lap down on lap 56, but when the yellow came out on lap 60, he was the beneficiary of the "lucky dog" rule, allowing him back onto the lead lap before he came to the pits. Once the car stopped, Junior was lifted from the cockpit by gasman Jeff Clark, allowing Truex to hop in, buckle up and leave the pit area, all in less than 38 seconds. Restarting 27th, Truex moved as high as 18th position before being spun by Schrader. He finished the race two laps behind the leaders. (Dale Jr. departed the media-circus/pit lane on approximately lap 100 to head back home to North Carolina.)
Dale Jr. Quotes: "There aren't many people I'd let drive my racecar, and Martin is going to do really well. I've been in a lot of pain, constant pain, but it felt better to sit in the racecar than to stand-up or walk. The car wasn't very good - it just wouldn't turn - so I think the car was in worse shape than I was in there.
"I've been in two burn centers this week, and this is a pain I've never felt before. But, I saw an awful lot of people that were in a lot worse shape than me, so it makes me appreciate that I was able to get out there and at least start the race. I mean, these were people who were burned badly just doing everyday things, and I'm lucky I was able to crawl out of that racecar (last week) and not be hurt worse than I was. It ain't no fun at all to get out of that racecar - or to be lifted out like a crash dummy - but I trust Martin and he may be better at this track than I am anyway."
"I want to thank everyone in the sport - and especially the fans- who have wished me well or sent 'get well' wishes for me. It makes me feel good. I appreciate it a lot."
Martin Truex Jr. Quotes: About his first Nextel Cup experience: "It was fun. We were actually pretty good at the end of the race and we were able to run a pace with the leaders. But, we were already down two laps so it didn't make much difference. I think if we didn't get spun there and didn't have to make so many stops to try to straighten the car up again, we were in contention to do well. I felt the same thing Dale Jr, did - the car was tight - but we made it better and better by the end.
"The driver change was a lot faster than I expected, They lifted Junior out, and all of a sudden I'm buckled in and on my way. It happened really fast.
"It was fun, and it was good racing. All week, the guys said there was no pressure on me. We were there to race for last-place points, and anything better than that was a bonus. So, I guess that means a bonus of 12 positions. It's not a lot, but it keep Dale Jr. in second-place in the points."
Best Radio Chatter:
With Dale Jr's injuries, there was very little joking on the radio this afternoon among the Bud team. But all was not completely bleary.
As the first yellow flag flew on lap 60:
Dale Jr. (relieved) "Alright guys, let's go. I'm done."
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "OK, let's change four tires and a driver."
Dale Jr. : "OK guys, calm down. Let's do this good."
Truex didn't have much to say on the radio, but did observe some
first-time rookie moments while trying to regain a lap from leaders Kurt
Busch and Jeff Gordon.
Martin: "The 24 (Gordon) doesn't want me racin' him like that! He's (really mad)."
Tony Jr: "That's OK - we're here for the same reason he is and you race as hard as you can."