Martinsville: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Jeff Gordon wins, Dale Jr. third. Dale Jr. and No. 8 Budweiser Team lead most laps, record third consecutive top-three. Jeff Gordon took the lead from Bobby Labonte late in Sunday's Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway to take his first victory...

Jeff Gordon wins, Dale Jr. third.
Dale Jr. and No. 8 Budweiser Team lead most laps, record third consecutive top-three.

Jeff Gordon took the lead from Bobby Labonte late in Sunday's Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway to take his first victory of 2003. For the third consecutive week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team finished in the top three, finishing third after leading the most laps (three times for 195 laps). Dale Jr. had what appeared to be the dominant car late in the race, but when a lapped car knocked Dale Jr. toward the wall on a lap 443 restart, he dropped from second to fifth place. Following the contact, Dale Jr. fought back to third, passing Tony Stewart on lap 483. The finish strengthens Dale Jr's second position in the Winston Cup points, and pulls him to within 51 points of leader Matt Kenseth after nine races. The Budweiser team has finished sixth or better in six of the last seven races, and recorded a career-best finish at Martinsville. This marks their third-consecutive top-five at the small, half-mile oval.

The Key Moments:

After a win last week at Talladega, Dale Jr. and the team came back strong, qualifying on the front row, and starting the race in second position. For 500 laps, the red No. 8 car remained in the top seven positions, and led three different times for 195 laps. After last week's high-speed, roller-coaster Talladega treat for "Type T" (thrill-seeker) personalities, today's race was a thrilling side-by-side battle on the shortest and slowest track on the Winston Cup tour. Dale Jr. stayed among the top five positions for the first segment of the race, picking off positions one-by-one to take the lead for the first time on lap 145. From there until a caution flag on lap 436, it was a battle between the eventual winner Gordon and Dale Jr. for the race lead. Bobby Labonte grabbed the lead on the ensuing pit stop, taking only two tires, and leading Dale Jr. at the restart on lap 443. Going into turn one, the car of Ricky Craven slid up the track, knocking the Bud car out of the groove and near the wall. After the incident, Dale Jr. fought back to third place to challenge Labonte for second when the last yellow flag of the day fell on lap 499, slowing the conclusion of the race.

Dale Jr's Quotes:

"Another good day for us. We had one of the cars to beat all day, a top-two or a top-three car. It seemed like Gordon and I traded off being the best car. On that restart, we had four fresh tires, and I felt like we could clear the lapped traffic and get past (Bobby) Labonte who only took two (tires). But, the 32-car (Craven) had some sort of big problem and almost took us out completely. I guess we're lucky to avoid a big-time wreck there, so I can't be too (mad) about the deal. I felt like once we dropped back, it was too hard to pass those guys in front of us to even have a chance at the win, but we tried hard to get what we could get."

"It was fun being up front. That's the most we've ever led here, and my guys have really built a great car for me to drive at this ol' place. We were the only team to get two top-five finishes here last year, so we were really focused on continuing that streak. It's a tough track, and you really have to be 'on' for 500 laps to avoid getting the car beat up. You can come in with all the confidence in the world, but it takes almost no time to be taken out of the race. The lower groove was better (this time). There was more rubber down there, so you could really run side-by-side. Last year, you really couldn't run low, so you'd have to knock somebody out of the way to pass 'em."

About the streak of strong finishes and second-place in points: "We were in a similar place last year in points when we won at Talladega, so we're not getting too excited or over-confident. But, we feel like we've put ourselves in a position to continue the strong finishes and to contend for the points lead all season. We're up there and we're not going anywhere."

Best Radio Conversations

Because of the short track and tight, tight racing, Dale Jr. was silent for much of the day during the green flag segments. However, he did have a few choice comments during several of the yellow-flag periods.

During a caution period beginning on lap 270.

Dale Jr.: (speaking to his cousin, Tony Eury Jr, car chief) "Hey... how ya enjoying the view? We're really getting' it when we go past you (the Bud pit stall was inside turn two)."

Tony Eury Jr. : "Yeah. Good. Pretty good race so far."

Dale Jr. (very proud of his pass of Rusty Wallace on the outside to take the lead for the first time): "Did ya like my pass for the lead?! Pretty cool, wasn't it?!"

Tony Jr: "Yeah, pretty cool."

Dale Jr: (mocking) "Yeah, I don't know how you hold back the tears watching such a beautiful pass..."

Dale Jr: "How many cars on the lead lap?"

Tony Jr: "15."

Dale Jr: "15?!"

Tony Jr: "Yeah, you were clicking 'em off pretty good there."

Dale Jr.: "I didn't feel like I passed that many people..."

Tony Jr: "When you were trying to lap the 6 car (Mark Martin) he was in 15th place."

Dale Jr: "Ol' Mark wasn't gonna let go of that 23 car (Kenny Wallace). I thought we were all gonna have a helluva wreck. I'm nobody's fool though... I'm just trying to keep my (stuff) in one piece."

After a pit stop on lap 349, the team figured they would be one lap short on fuel if the race ran to the finish under the green flag.

Tony Jr: "You need to save some fuel. Be careful on the fuel because we can't make it from here..."

Dale Jr: "What?! You're outta luck! I'm pumping away in here... (long pause) Has anybody figured out a way to save fuel? Anybody ever figured that out? I dunno if they've ever found a way. But, let's make sure. We're in a points race here, so I don't want to work my (butt) off all day then run out with four to go and finish 34th... If that happens, I'll be bustin' some skulls..."

Dale Jr. and the Budweiser team have been running at the finish of 33 consecutive races, the longest current string among Winston Cup teams...

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Ricky Craven , Tony Eury Jr. , Mark Martin