Johnson Wins at Martinsville, Dale Jr. 23rd Great Car, But Rough Engine Hampers Strong Run for Bud Team Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's Subway 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, holding off Ryan Newman and teammate Jeff Gordon on an ...
Johnson Wins at Martinsville, Dale Jr. 23rd
Great Car, But Rough Engine Hampers Strong Run for Bud Team
Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's Subway 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, holding off Ryan Newman and teammate Jeff Gordon on an overtime green-white-checkered-flag finish. Johnson is now 53 points behind Gordon for the points lead with four races remaining in the 2007 Nextel Cup season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team had a great-handling car, leading 24 laps and spending much of the day among the top-five positions despite an engine that sputtered and shuddered all afternoon. The engine finally wheezed its final breath under the last of a track-record 21 caution periods. The engine failure dropped Dale Jr. from fourth place to a finish of 23rd place. Despite the disappointing final laps, Dale Jr. remains in 13th place in Nextel Cup points, leading Ryan Newman by 66 points.
Dale Jr., starting 7th, didn't begin with a bang, as he struggled with the Bud car, dropping 12 positions in the first 11 laps. However, as the tire pressures and temperatures increased, so did the speed of the No. 8 car, and Dale Jr. began a climb back through the field. He regained a spot in the top-10 on lap 75, and fell from the front of the field only after pit stops. Despite a great handling car and lap times easily among the fastest of any car in the field, Dale Jr. began feeling the ill effects of engine issues as early as lap 100. A suspected valve spring failure hampered the straightaway speed of the No. 8 car, but because it was handling so well, Dale Jr. was able to eventually climb into the lead on lap 225, pulling away from the field until a yellow flag pit stop on lap 249 dropped them to 16th place. The engine trouble worsened, and dropped Dale Jr. as low as 27th position on lap 295 (of an eventual distance of 506 laps), but pit strategy allowed him to get back into the top-15 by lap 300 and then he sliced, diced, beat and banged his way into fourth place by lap 387. His attempts to climb higher were hampered by a seemingly endless stream of caution flags in the final 100 laps, and then the engine finally put itself out of its misery before the final restart on lap 504, but Dale Jr. was still able to limp the car around under caution to finish the race.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"We had one helluva car today - it handled great, the brakes worked beautifully and we were able to have a great run despite the engine sputtering and missing almost all day. We think we broke a valve spring early in the race. It was on seven cylinders, and I'm sure the other guys out there could hear that strange sound when we passed 'em! That's how good we were - even going so slow on the straightaways. They were surely scared of us when we took the lead and took off. I worked hard today... How long was that race? 12 hours?!... But it was still fun for me. I ran into anything and everything and pissed everybody else off. Not on purpose... most of the time. It was just how everybody had to race because these cars are so equal. There's no way you can pass without some contact now and then. As the engine went away completely at the end, they just drove right by me. There was nothing I could do. It's a bad, helpless feeling when that happens because we had been so good all day. Just another one of those engine deals. I'm pretty sick of that happening, ya know, because we had a car that could have won, and the guys that worked so hard to give me a great car and gave me great pit stops and adjustments deserve better."
Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr. announced an ominous sign of things to come when he described engine issues while running in the top-10 on lap 108...
Dale Jr.: "This thing is backfiring and missing! I've already had to go to ignition two (the back-up ignition system). It's still doing it but it's not as bad as with the first ignition box. It got so bad it wasn't even running on the straights. The handling's great! Even on 7 cylinders I can keep up. Ignition two isn't as bad - but it's still 'bloop... bloop... bloop... blooop...' This is potentially a race-ending issue!"
Tony Gibson (crew chief): "We think we know what it is and we're trying to figure out if we can change or correct it."
On lap 257, the No. 18 car of JJ Yeley blew up in a major fashion immediately in front of Dale Jr. and the Bud car. Junior was able to slow down and avoid crashing despite being completely immersed in a profuse amount of smoke...
Dale Jr.: "Wow!! That was a LOT of smoke!"
Gibson: "Yeah, I couldn't see where you were!"
Dale Jr: "I couldn't see where I was at either!"
Gibson (to spotter TJ Majors) "TJ, you did a good job there."
Dale Jr. : "I was just trying not to run into anything. What did you say TJ?!..."
As the intermittent engine woes became much worse, Dale Jr. dropped as far back as 27th place on lap 286 - and then vented his frustration on the radio...
Dale Jr: "The motor's gotten way way worse. That's why we're losing spots! I wish it would just blow up. I'm sick of being out here losing power like this... I'm tellin' ya, man, I'm sick of this engine (stuff). Have ya got something real old back at the shop that we can run the rest of the year? Something that will at least run. Do you guys give a (expletive), because I sure do!"
Gibson: "I'm not a fan of it myself. I know what you're saying. The engine guys can hear it on the backstretch and they think it's an inner spring. Hang in there. We're working on a fuel strategy to help ya out here!"
Dale Jr: I don't care what you do. Throw me to the wolves. Leave me out here on 100-lap tires. That's cool. I'm ready to do battle!"
Even with the balky engine, Dale Jr. battled back into the top-five, but needed long green flag runs to take advantage of a superior handling car. As the record number of yellow flags multiplied, so did the frustration level of the driver.
Dale Jr. (under caution on lap 474): "Man! What the hell! These guys can't finish a race! The cream and talent rises to the top here. We can't move forward under caution! I need more laps. This thing is stumbling along like a mother... but I will say this - you built a helluva racecar. Other than the engine, everything else has been awesome."
Gibson: "The ol' driver ain't been too bad either..."
Dale Jr: "Heh heh. Thanks. I've had fun pissin' everybody off...."
On lap 498, again under caution, the troubles finally became major...
Dale Jr: "I think it's officially done... (pause) Did you hear me? The motor's finished. It's barely running... TJ (Majors), you gotta tell the cars behind me I'll be slow on the low side. They need to go to the high side as best they can and not crash into me. I'll be dead in the low lane. This is gonna suck. It's gonna suck bad..."