Harvick Sweeps Phoenix, Dale Jr. Ninth Bud Team Grabs Fifth Top-10 in Last Seven Races Kevin Harvick dominated Sunday's Nextel Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, completing a sweep of the two Phoenix Cup races this season and moving ...
Harvick Sweeps Phoenix, Dale Jr. Ninth
Bud Team Grabs Fifth Top-10 in Last Seven Races
Kevin Harvick dominated Sunday's Nextel Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, completing a sweep of the two Phoenix Cup races this season and moving himself into third place in the Chase for the Nextel Cup with one race remaining. Point leader Jimmie Johnson solidified his chances for winning his first title with a strong second-place finish. Johnson is now 63 points ahead of second place, Matt Kenseth, going to the season finale in Homestead next Sunday. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team spent almost the entire day in the top-10, but struggled with the handling of the Bud car after a series of yellow flags late in the race to finish in ninth place. It is the fifth top-10 finish for Dale Jr. in the last seven races in the Chase for the Cup (the only two non-top-10s were Talladega - where Junior was crashed by another car while leading on the last lap - and Martinsville - where Junior spun late in the race while running seventh). The ninth-place finish means Dale Jr. is now in fifth place in the point standings going into the last race. Dale Jr. is still mathematically eligible to win the title, but trails Johnson by 115 points. This is the 17th top-10 finish of the season for the Bud team.
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 4th (his best starting position of the year), struggled mightily with his racecar from the start of the race, dropping out of the top-10 by lap 65, but was fortunate to receive quick service in the pits combined with saavy adjustments by crew chief Tony Eury Jr. Junior moved back into the top-10 by lap 77, and never dropped further than eighth until the final lap. The Bud car improved as the race progressed, climbing back to fourth place on lap 205 after the team's third pit stop. However, an increasing flurry of caution periods in the final 70 laps of the race proved to be detrimental to the handling of the Budweiser machine. As the tires cooled under each yellow flag, the car was ill-tempered on each restart. The final frustration took place when the race was red flagged on lap 308 (of 312), causing the car to be even further from ideal on the last restart, and Dale Jr. dropped several positions in the final laps.
Dale Jr. Quotes: "We would have been lucky to have a top-25 finish if we would have run like we did at the start of the race, but my guys really worked hard and did a good job of improving the car throughout the race. But, we really struggled worse in those final 50 laps because of all of those late yellow flags. Our car would get tighter and tighter after the tires would cool off. I just couldn't turn in the middle of the corner to pass anyone for the first few laps on a restart - and then the red flag at the end really hurt us because the tires were really cold and we lost a few spots. I'm still proud of my guys - we managed a top-10 finish despite all of that. We're a lot further behind in the points than what we wanted to be leaving this place, but we'll get back home and get ready to try to win Homestead."
Best Radio Chatter:
Despite being in a fight to stay in contention for a championship, Junior's thoughts turned to his teammate, Martin Truex Jr., who was running in 29th place on lap 193 (but later recovered to finish a strong 12th place,)
Dale Jr.: "What's wrong with Martin?"
Steve Hmiel (spotter): "They're struggling. Martin said he never wanted those truck arms on his car ever again."
Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief); "What took the left side of the car off?"
Hmiel: "The 96 (Tony Raines) pulled out of his pit right into Martin."
Dale Jr: "That's a shame. That boy can DRIVE a racecar..."
Multiple yellow flags late in the race made the driver of the Bud car increasingly agitated...
Dale Jr.: (after the yellow flag on lap 291 of 312): "I spoke too soon. We're really tight."
Eury Jr.: "We're stayin' out. Keep some heat in your tires."
Dale Jr.: "C'mon man! Damn. I need to be free. This is aggravating. (looking in the mirror at the cars behind him.) Who's behind the 31 (J. Burton) car?"
Hmiel: "That's the 07 (C. Bowyer) and the 1 (Truex)."
Dale Jr.: "OK. They haven't been great all day. I can hold them off, but the 9 (K. Kahne) and the 31 might get me."
Tony Jr: "You'll be OK. Just get up on the wheel."
Dale Jr. (animated) "I've been up on it all day long! I can't be MORE up on it!"
Tony Jr: "You'll be OK."
Dale Jr: (calmer) "Thanks for the changes today. We might not have been a top-25 car the way it was at the start.... (looking at the cars ahead of him for the restart) I may have to rough up the 6 (M. Martin) to get by him. Maybe the 11 (D. Hamlin) will get by and I can follow. Otherwise, I might have to rub on him to get by."