Kenseth Wins at Michigan, Dale Jr. 6th Bud Car Dominates Early, Leads 40 Laps Matt Kenseth won Sunday's GFS 400 at Michigan International Speedway, leading the most laps and heading Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart across the finish line for his...
Kenseth Wins at Michigan, Dale Jr. 6th Bud Car Dominates Early, Leads 40 Laps
Matt Kenseth won Sunday's GFS 400 at Michigan International Speedway, leading the most laps and heading Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart across the finish line for his third Nextel Cup Series win of the season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team were dominant for much of the race, but fell deep into the field after a balky pit stop on lap 133. Restarting 19th, Dale Jr. spent the final 65 laps clawing and inching forward through heavy traffic, climbing to sixth place at the finish. The final lap saw Dale Jr. cross the line side-by-side with Mark Martin, who beat him for fifth place by a few inches. The finish, combined with five bonus points for leading, keeps Dale Jr. in the 10th position in points with three races remaining before the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Dale Jr. is 49 points ahead of 11th place (Kasey Kahne) and only 50 points behind sixth-place (Jeff Gordon). Dale Jr's two Michigan finishes this season - third and sixth - are his two best career finishes at the two-mile D-shaped oval, and 40 laps led is a career-best at Michigan. It is the 10th top-10 finish and the 10th race led of the 2006 season for Dale Jr.
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 17th, was clearly one of the fastest cars from the green flag, climbing to eighth place by lap 15, then into second place before making the team's first pit stop of the afternoon on lap 24. Dale Jr., easily setting the quickest times of any car on track lap after lap, eventually launched from third to first place on lap 36, then led by as much as five seconds for much of the middle portion of the race. Dale Jr. was running second (behind eventual winner Kenseth) when the yellow flag flew on lap 131. Problems changing the left-rear tire dropped the Bud car to 19th place after the stop, and the remaining laps were spent fighting through heavy traffic to gain the sixth-place finish.J
Dale Jr. Quotes: "A great car. It was a great car. It was so much fun to be the fastest car out there for the first three-fourths of the race. When we had it up front, it was awesome fast. But, we had some kind of trouble on a pit stop - I don't know what it was - and then we were deep into traffic. The car was not as good back there as it was early on, and I just had to grind out spot-by-spot. It's good that we got it back up to sixth after being that far back."
"It's a decent points day for us. We knew Kasey (Kahne) was the guy right behind us in points, and he won here earlier this year, so we knew this was a place where he was going to be really good. He was, but we hung close and managed to maintain our (points) margin. That's a positive to maintain at a track where he's the strongest."
Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr. ran at or near the front for much of the first 130 laps when a yellow flag flew while the Bud car was running second behind Matt Kenseth. Kenseth and Dale Jr. had waged a hard battle, running side-by-side for the lead for almost five laps.
Dale Jr: "Steve (spotter Hmiel), do me a favor and tell Matt's spotter we're trying to lead as many laps as we can to get the points (for leading the most laps). That's why I was racing him so hard this early in the race."
Hmiel: "Yeah, I talked with his spotter during that yellow that we wanted to do that."
Dale Jr: "OK. They're still calm?"
Hmiel: "Yeah, so far we're cool."
The following lap, the Bud car pitted from second place, but exited pit lane in 19th.
Dale Jr. (sounding more worried than angry) "We're in big trouble now."
Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "Nah. We'll be fine."
Dale Jr: "How do the points look?"
Tony Jr: "We're good. The 2 car (Kurt Busch) just blew up, and you've been great all day. Just do what you can. You've been great today, just keep doing it and we'll be OK."
Hmiel: "Dale Jr, I know it's what everybody wants to talk about all the time - but just do the best you can to not think about points. Do the best you can do and let Tony Jr. and us worry about the points."
Dale Jr (sounding relieved): "Cool."
Tony Jr: "You've got the best car here. You just worry about going forward and we'll worry about the rest of it."
After the restart in heavy traffic, Dale Jr. was not able to pass with the ease he had displayed earlier in the day.
Dale Jr (during the subsequent yellow flag on lap 142): "It's too loose to run underneath them. And it's too loose to run at the top, so I have to run right behind 'em."
Tony Jr: "You're gonna be good. Just get up there in cleaner air and it'll be better. Maybe I'll give you a small track-bar adjustment to tighten you up."
Dale Jr: "Welllll, we don't wanna make too much of an adjustment because then we'll be pushing. Then you'll have a pissed-off driver!"
Tony Jr: "You'll be OK."