Pocono II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Kurt Busch Wins at Pocono, Budweiser Team Finishes 32nd Early misfortunes spoil day for Dale Jr. Defending Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch led 131 of 203 laps and survived a spirited green-white-checkered finish to win the Pennsylvania 500 ...

Kurt Busch Wins at Pocono, Budweiser Team Finishes 32nd
Early misfortunes spoil day for Dale Jr.

Defending Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch led 131 of 203 laps and survived a spirited green-white-checkered finish to win the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday. Busch took the lead away from Rusty Wallace 17 laps from the scheduled finish and held on for the victory. Wallace finished second and Mark Martin third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team finished 32nd, snapping a string of three consecutive top-10 finishes. Junior fell two laps down early, all on pit road, and was never able to recover. As a result, he slipped one spot to 14th in the point standings (2,262 points). With six races to go before the start of the 10-race Chase for the Championship, Dale Jr. sits 110 points out of the top-10 and 137 points away from the 400-point cutoff for Chase eligibility.

Key Moments: Poor track position, an ill-timed caution and a pit-road speeding penalty soured the Bud team's day before it ever really started. But if there was any solace, it came in the quick lap times the Bud car was registering at the end of the day, the result of major changes to the car's set-up throughout the afternoon. Starting 38th, an untimely caution caught Junior one lap down to the leaders on the 49th circuit, as debris was spotted on the backstretch while the #8 Chevy was on pit road. Junior lost another lap by virtue of a pit-road speeding penalty. The Brew Crew had just completed the first of a two-part phase to change the right-front spring -- a lengthy but necessary adjustment to help the Budweiser Chevy's handle. But in a crunch to beat the pace car, Dale Jr. sped off pit road and was hit with a lap-penalty. The two-lap deficit proved unrecoverable, even with Junior driving one of the fastest cars on the track by the time the checkers waved.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"It was kind of a rough start today, but once we got the car figured out, it was pretty easy. A lot of things happened that nobody really knows about, but we got the car better at the end. We changed a spring, of all things, under a pit stop, and lost a lap. Never could make the laps back up. We got the car driving better, so we if we learned anything for Indy, which I think we did, maybe we can gain what we lost today. I don't like losing that much, but we've got enough races to get it done."

How do you get back the momentum lost today?

"We'll get it back. We learned some stuff today. At the beginning of the weekend, we were really bad, and no matter what we did, we couldn't get the car running better. But there at the end, man, we were fast. We passed the second-place car, and then ran away from him. So if you paid real close attention to what happened today -- well, I don't know if I can explain it -- but we'll be OK. We got some stuff figured out today that really helped the car. I can't wait for Indy."

On having six races to climb into the Chase for the Championship:

"Plenty of time. We just got to win more, maybe run in the top-five a couple times. We'll be right there."

Best Radio Chatter:

After a lengthy pit stop to change the right-front spring, Dale Jr. sped down pit road in effort to beat the pace car. But he was clocked going 143 mph (pit road speed limit is 55), which warranted a one-lap penalty by NASCAR:

Dale Jr.: "Everything's cool. NASCAR did the right thing. If the car is better, we can make it up."

Dale Jr.: "Ya know, I only went that fast because that was the only way I was going to beat the pace car. I'm sorry, because that was really stupid actually, with all them guys out on pit road. I'm sorry... tell Mike (Helton), and all them officials."

Steve Hmiel (crew chief): "Yeah, no problem. It's the same thing (NASCAR Events Director) David Hoots said, that it's OK to run like mad and beat the pace car. It would probably just get you a stop and go (penalty). But once we got by the pace car, you needed to know so you could slow back down a little bit. It's OK, we live and learn. Nobody's excited."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, I was going down through there and was thinking, 'man, what if I got out of control here.' So, I'm real sorry about that. Got us some undeserved ignorant attention there."

Hmiel: (laughing) "I think you set a record of 143 mph down pit road."

Having raced his way from the back to the front, Dale Jr. jokingly suggested a change to the "beneficiary" rule:

Dale Jr.: "Next year, they ought to consider giving the 'lucky dog' award to whoever drives up through there the best... like I did."

Hmiel: "Yeah, they ought to have a 'Whatever' Award."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, hell, that was a lotta work!"

A handful of wrecks in the closing circuits prolonged the race three extra laps, prompting a bit more imaginative tweaks to the NASCAR rulebook:

Hmiel: "I think they ought to restart three-wide on green-white-checkered finishes."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, unless you were second... or fifth even."

Hmiel: (laughing) Yeah, understand that!"

-dei-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Rusty Wallace , Kurt Busch , Mark Martin