Johnson Wins at Martinsville on Tragic Day Gear Problems for Dale Jr. and the Bud Team Note: All of our thoughts and well-wishes go out to Rick Hendrick and the entire Hendrick organization after today's tragic plane crash. Jimmie Johnson won...
Johnson Wins at Martinsville on Tragic Day
Gear Problems for Dale Jr. and the Bud Team
Note: All of our thoughts and well-wishes go out to Rick Hendrick and the entire Hendrick organization after today's tragic plane crash.
Jimmie Johnson won his second straight NASCAR Nextel Cup race Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, winning the Subway 500. Jamie McMurray was second, followed by Ryan Newman in third place. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team had a frustrating day, as their sparkling performances this season on short-tracks came to an end with a 33rd-place finish. Dale Jr. ran easily among the top-five early in the race, but a constantly deteriorating car finally gave way, spewing a pinion gear out of the rear end on lap 416. The Bud team made repairs and Dale Jr. returned to the race, only to be swept into a crash in front of him. The crash broke the radiator of the No. 8 machine, ending the race day for Dale Jr. after 449 (of 500) laps. The disappointing finish dropped Dale Jr. from second to third place in the NASCAR Nextel Chase for the Cup with four races remaining. Prior to Sunday's race, the Bud team had two wins and four top-three finishes in the previous short track events in 2004. Today's race ended the string of five consecutive top-five finishes at Martinsville, and also ended a career-best six consecutive top-10 finishes this season.
Starting 3rd, Dale Jr. ran in top-10 for the first 225 laps despite faulty radio communications between the car, the team and spotter, Steve Hmiel. (The radio problems have been a recurring theme for the past several seasons. Perhaps the time has come to investigate alternative systems...) From that stage forward, Dale Jr, began complaining of an ill-handling car and an ever-worsening vibration. After 16 pit stops to check out the tires and brakes, make huge adjustments to the spings and the rear track-bar, the problem finally became very apparent when the rear-end pinion gear deposited itself on the front stretch on a late restart. The team replaced the drive line, returning to the race nearly 20 laps later, but were soon swept into a crash. The resulting damage to the radiator knocked the team out of the race, finishing 33rd.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
NOTE: Dale Jr. left the track before news of the tragic plane crash was announced.
"It was mostly out of our control. It wasn't a mistake any of us made. You can't do much about a parts failure. We had a good car yesterday in practice. We changed a lot of things during the pit stops and nothing helped. We finally had a bunch of vibrations. I thought Kyle (Petty) was staying low but he spun. That's just an insult to injury really. His spoiler hit my car right at the front of the driver's side door. Look at that damage - that was close. I thought it was going to take my head off. It's just a tough day. We couldn't really do much about it. It was one thing after another."
About losing points toward the championship: "I think a guy can win a championship without having any problems. We didn't really need this. I don't you think you can go ahead and say 'yeah we're going to have one and this is it.' We didn't need this. This is a track we've run good at."
"We were really good in practice yesterday. We weren't up on the (lap time) sheet but my car ran 19.90s (second per lap) something like twenty laps in a row. I didn't see anybody that could do that. When you put the sheet down and look at everybody's times, I was happy. I don't know why I was tight. Maybe that gear was messed up and made it pull in the rear end. The car was awful and it fell apart out from under me today. The rear wheel was skipping all day. Every once in a while you just get a bad batch of parts or something like that. We normally don't have these type of problems."
Best Radio Chatter:
As the car handled worse and worse and a vibration became stronger and stronger:
Dale Jr. : (after originally explaining it felt like a stuck rear brake caliper) "Could it be a gear coming out?"
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "Yeah, that may be it."
Dale Jr: "What do we do?"
Tony Jr: "Just drive it until it breaks."
Dale Jr.: Will you pick me up outta the grandstands if it breaks?"
Tony Jr: "I think you're smart enough to know when it's happening."
Dale Jr.: "It feels like it's happening right now. Tell the boys behind me in line this thing might go..."
One lap later:
Steve Hmiel: "There it goes! There's gear grease all over the front stretch."
After the team spent nearly twenty laps repairing the drive train, and Dale Jr. returned to the track.
Dale Jr: "I don't know if I'll have everybody together at the shop tomorrow, but let's keep it all together!"
Tony Jr: "We're together down here. We'll just have to be hard at it for the rest of the year."
Dale Jr: "That's right. Let's hang in there and stay on it. Attention to details and no bullshit the rest of the year."