Bobby Labonte wins Martinsville, Earnhardt Jr. fifth. No. 8 Budweiser Team scores first-ever top five at tough Martinsville oval. Bobby Labonte grabbed his first victory of 2002 Sunday at the Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Matt Kenseth...
Bobby Labonte wins Martinsville, Earnhardt Jr. fifth.
No. 8 Budweiser Team scores first-ever top five at tough Martinsville oval.
Bobby Labonte grabbed his first victory of 2002 Sunday at the Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Matt Kenseth followed Labonte in second with Tony Stewart in third. Dale Jarrett was fourth, just ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team. The Bud team had never finished in the top 10 at Martinsville, so the top-five tally is a major sign of the growing maturity and strength of the team. It is the fourth top-five finish in the last five races for Dale Jr., and after leading 41 laps late in the race, it added to their streak of leading in five of the last six races. (The team has scored 35 bonus points this year for leading races - second only to Stewart.)
Unlike past events at Martinsville where the Bud car was carted off in a twisted mess of metal, the red No. 8 car finished today's race with no damage other than a missing wire mesh grille on the nose. It is the first time that Dale Jr. has ever finished fifth in a Winston Cup race, and it pulls him back into the top 10 in points. Dale Jr. is currently ninth, less than 100 points out of third place.
The Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting third, stayed among the leaders all day. Using patience and selective moments of aggression, Dale Jr. avoided contact while many of the other front-runners had trouble on track or in the pits. With their best pit stop of the day on lap 327 (of 500), the Budweiser pit crew sent Dale Jr. onto the track in the lead, where he stayed for 41 laps, occasionally extending his margin to more than four seconds on the second place car while slicing through lapped traffic. When the yellow flag flew again, the team suffered when several lug nuts fell off of the fresh tires, slowing the stop. Dropping to seventh, Dale Jr. patiently held his position until another yellow on lap 405. Another slow stop dropped them all the way to 16th place with less than 100 laps to go. It took Dale Jr. less than 10 laps to careen into 8th place, and then began a methodical charge through traffic in the final 75 laps, avoiding several multi-car accidents that took place right in front of him.
Dale Jr's Quotes:
"That was a damn hard race. It's probably the hardest race I've driven in a long time. We have never had a good finish here before so it feels great to come out with a top-five. We had some trouble in the pits with about 100 (laps) left, and I don't know what it is about getting pissed off, but I seem to be several tenths (of a second per lap) quicker when I'm mad. It was wild there at the end - I was drivin' my butt off. I think we were quicker than the 88 (Jarrett) and the 17 (Kenseth), but I lost ground on them just avoiding a couple of crashes.
"I'm happy with the top-five. Look at the car - the team won't have to replace the whole body on it like they usually do after Martinsville. Maybe just the grille in front This is a championship-caliber team and we're doing all we can do to get a lot more of these top finishes. I can't say enough about how well Tony Eury (crew chief) and the guys are working together. The cars have been great and we're up front every week. We are all working toward that championship together - we're gonna try to win it for the fans, and for our sponsors like Budweiser that have been so great to us."
Best Radio Conversations
Under a yellow flag segment beginning on lap 100, Dale Jr. described a problem he was having inside the car
Dale Jr: "I can't get any water out of this cooler. I don't know if the tube is out of the bottle or all the way to the bottom. I mean, I'm not gonna get dehydrated or anything, but it's bad that I got this water right here next to me and I can't get at it. That's hardcore, man."
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "Next stop, we'll get you a bottle of water and you can just toss it out when you're done" Several laps later
Dale Jr. (joking): "OK, I just dislocated my shoulder-blade, but I got the water bottle working now. I don't wanna be any trouble to you guys Alright - now you guys just get me to the finish. We need a top-five. A top-five, that's what we need today. That's what I want"
Money Won: $88,862
Points Position: 9th
Laps Led: Led once for 41 laps
Best Pit Stop: Lap 327/4 tires and Fuel/13.70 seconds (Fourth stop of the day)