Phoenix: Dale Earnhart Jr. race report

Kenseth wins at Phoenix; no. 8 Budweiser team scores another top five finish. Matt Kenseth won for the fifth time during the 2002 Winston Cup season Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, leading the final 51 laps of the Checker 500. Kenseth...

Kenseth wins at Phoenix; no. 8 Budweiser team scores another top five finish.

Matt Kenseth won for the fifth time during the 2002 Winston Cup season Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, leading the final 51 laps of the Checker 500. Kenseth led Rusty Wallace across the finish line after taking just two tires on his final pit stop and then took advantage of the clear track to streak away from the field. Jeff Gordon was third while Mark Martin was fourth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team dominated the early portions of the race, leading 105 of the 312 laps, and finished fifth. Dale Jr. and the Bud team managed to recover from running out of fuel on lap 117 while leading the race. Dale Jr's top-five tally is the sixth top-five in the last 12 races, and is the sixth top-10 finish in the last seven races. The finish improves on the team's previous career best finish at the Phoenix desert oval by 22 positions. Winston Cup points leader Tony Stewart finished eighth, and leads Martin by 89 points with one race remaining.

The Key Moments: Dale Jr. and the Bud team started third, and wasted very little time in getting to the front, taking the lead on lap seven and stretching the margin to nearly six seconds during the first 100 laps of the race. With an easy lead and a setting a comfortable pace, the team was shocked to hear Dale Jr. report that he was out of fuel four laps before he was scheduled to make a pit stop. Despite the agonizingly slow lap as the powerless Bud car limped around the 1-mile oval, the team managed to stay on the lead lap, dropping to the seventh position. From that point forward, it was an all-out charge to get back to the front of the field, but heavy traffic and track position worked against the No. 8 team. When the final restart took place, Dale Jr. was in ninth, and he fought back into the top five in the final 30 laps. Going into the final race next week at Homestead, Dale Jr. is 52 points behind Ricky Rudd for 10th place in the Winston Cup point standings.

Dale Jr's Quotes: "I am disappointed because we came out here to win - and we had a car fast enough to win - but once we ran out of fuel, we were never able to make it back up there to battle for the lead. But, I am really happy about the weekend overall, because my crew built me a super race car. It was a good ol' car and it was fun to drive. It makes it a much easier flight home, knowing we were one of the cars to beat this week rather than crawl home with a 30th-place or something like that. We had a bad race last week (at Rockingham) and Tony (Eury, crew chief) and Tony Jr. (Eury, car chief) got everyone fired up to come out here and fight hard all weekend. Now, we have something to look forward to when we come back here next year. Another top five is great. We have a shot to get into the top ten in points next week.

"My feet are sore because I was mashing that gas pedal so hard for the last 100 laps or so. I really wanted to catch Mark (Martin) and those guys ahead of me at the finish and I think I just about kicked a hole in the floorboard trying to go faster. I tell ya, track position is so important. When I was leading, I had clean air and I was able to pull away from everybody - almost easily. I was just taking it easy then, but when you restart in ninth or tenth with all of the lapped cars on the inside.of ya, it's almost impossible to get back to the front. By the time you fight to get around the lapped cars, you've used up a great car and you're a whole straightway behind the guys that have just sailed away at the front."

Best Radio Conversations The Phoenix track is a one-mile oval that requires constant attention from the driver.

Dale Jr.: (to his spotter, Ty Norris, after he had taken the lead for the first time): "OK, a lil' quiet on the radio please. Just clear me, OK? Just tell me when I'm clear because it takes sooooooo much concentration out here, ya know?"

After running out of fuel, Dale Jr. was understandably upset when he returned to the track.

Dale Jr: "How far behind am I?"

Ty Norris: "You're fine, brother... You gotta helluva race car. We can catch up. You can make it up."

Tony Eury Jr.: (calmly) "OK, you're 12 seconds behind the leader... the 24 car (Jeff Gordon) is the leader now, and he's just coming off of turn two. You're doin' good... we're sorry for the inconvenience."

Dale Jr.: "It made me mad! I haven't been that mad in a long time!"

Tony Jr: "Believe me, I'm with ya..."

Dale Jr. barely avoided hitting the spinning car of Scott Wimmer on lap 133 immediately in front of the Budweiser pit area.

Tony Eury: "Great job! Helluva job there!"

Dale Jr: (after catching his breath) "Whoa. We ran over a lotta (stuff) out there, so I'll need four new tires. I've got flat spots on all of 'em. Now, just me a 'hell-yeah!' kinda pit stop here, OK?"

Tony Eury Jr.: "OK, Let's do our job here..."

Dale Jr: "That was pretty close to having a totaled car there. I mighta injured the car in some way jumping on the brakes like that, but I hope not..."

After the restart, Dale Jr. was relieved to have a car that was once again one of the fastest on the track.

Dale Jr: "OK, it feels better now. Talk to me..."

Tony Jr: You're doin' great. You're running 30's (28.30-second lap times) like you were earlier."

Dale Jr.: "OK. Hell yeah. Let me know that out here. If I don't hear from you at all, I wanna have someone go over and check yer pulse..."

Tony Jr: (laughing) "Hey - I didn't wanna talk to you because I thought you was concentratin' on passing those boys..."

Today's Stats
Started: 3rd
Finished: 5th
Points Position: 11th (no change)
Money Won: $97,850
Laps Led: Two times for 105 laps
Best Pit Stop: Lap 28 / Stop #1 of 5 / 4 tires, Fuel / 13.26 seconds

Career Numbers: The 11 top-five finishes this season is a career-best for Dale Jr. and the Bud team. They have also set new career marks for top-10s (16), races led (21) and laps led (1022).


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Scott Wimmer , Tony Eury Jr. , Mark Martin