Pocono II: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Ryan Newman won his league-leading fourth race of 2003, taking the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team led the race for 25 laps, and finished third. It is the sixth top-three finish of the season for Dale Jr.

Ryan Newman won his league-leading fourth race of 2003, taking the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team led the race for 25 laps, and finished third. It is the sixth top-three finish of the season for Dale Jr. and the Bud team. The strong finish, plus five bonus points for leading the race, propelled Dale Jr. back into second position in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. With 16 races remaining in 2003, Dale Jr. needs only three additional top-10 finishes to match his career season-best of 16 (2002).

The Key Moments:

Starting 18th, Dale Jr. slowly moved his way through the field, taking advantage of pit strategy to move into the top-10 on lap 51. The day took a bizarre twist on lap 74, when the Budweiser car suffered damage to the right rear quarter panel while avoiding a crash. Rather than risk a cut tire from the bent sheet metal, the team opted to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 76 to change tires and make repairs. Even though the stop dropped the No. 8 car to 32nd position, the misfortune turned into good fortune when much of the field made pit stops while Dale Jr. and teammate Michael Waltrip remained on track until making pit stops on lap 117. A yellow flag flew on lap 118 allowed the Dale Earnhardt Inc. duo to remain in first and second position. The Bud car took the lead on lap 130, then pulled away from the field by nearly five seconds before making a final pit stop on lap 154. Taking advantage of several late-race yellow flag periods, the Bud car made it the remaining laps without stopping again for fuel, finishing behind Newman and Kurt Busch.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"Hey -- alright, man. It's another great day for the Bud guys, a really strong day in the points. We were good all day, the car was fast, and we needed good pit strategy to get ourselves up near the front. I don't know if we've ever been better in the pits and on making the right calls to come in when we did. Track position is everything: once we got out ahead of the pack in clear air, it was easy to pull away. The last 50 laps or so, once Newman got out ahead of me, my car didn't handle well enough to get past him."

"We really needed those late yellow flags to make it to the end on fuel. They told me we were a gallon short at first, then we got a yellow flag (on lap 166) and that meant we were half-a-gallon short, but we knew we had to take a chance and stay out. Track position was key, and then when the 18 (Bobby Labonte) blew up big-time, that gave us enough laps under yellow to put us on the positive side of the fuel question. I kept asking the guys if they were sure on the fuel mileage, because we seem to always end up on the wrong end of that deal. I still don't know if anyone has figured out how to "save fuel." I hate it when they tell me that because I have no idea how to do that, ya know? I just kind of rode around out there, coasting when I could. Heck, I dunno if that helped or not, but the yellow flags saved us."

Best Radio Conversations
The radio chatter was sparse until well past the halfway point of the race.

Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "OK, we look good here. The 15 car (Waltrip) and us are probably the only two that can make it on only one more stop."

Dale Jr: "Yeah, but I gotta problem here. I can't mash on the brakes because there's fluid on the floorboard. It's all over my shoes." (The fluids were from a spill inside the car earlier in the weekend.)

Tony Jr: "You're doing great though. Just wipe your shoes on the (leg) brace."

Dale Jr; "No way. I'm trapped in here, I can't do that, and I can't reach my hand down to wipe it off. That's how trapped I am in here."

The cloudy day began to look a little brighter when a crash involving Jeff Gordon brought out a yellow flag, and cemented the Bud team's place at the front of the field.

Dale Jr.: "OK, looks like some points gained for Junebug (his nickname) here..."

Tony Jr: "It's just an opportunity. We still gotta take advantage of it."

Dale Jr: "The car's great, but I'm giving up a little time in the tunnel turn (turn two). Man, I was amazing in that corner earlier today. I was the best through there, but now I'm a mid-pack car in the tunnel turn. But, if I hit the lap just right, I'm good everywhere else."

As the laps wound down, the team decided to stay on the track, gambling that there would be enough yellow flag laps to finish the race without stopping again.

Tony Jr: (on lap 167) "You're about 3/4 of a lap short right now. But we'll be OK if we get some more caution laps."

Dale Jr.: "Well, then we have until lap 199 to decide if we need to pit."

Tony Jr: "Do what you can to save fuel. Don't scrub your tires too much so you don't dump any fuel out of the overflow."

Dale Jr: "C'mon now! Are you sure, or are you guys just paranoid?"

Tony Jr: "We'll see..."

Dale Jr: "I'm gonna be short on fuel, I just feel it. It looks like the rest of the field stopped and we've gotta stay out and try to make it to beat all of those guys... How was my pace there?"

Tony Jr: "Good. You were only a touch slower."

Dale Jr: "Yeah, I wanted to go slower (to save fuel) without having to go a lot slower. Ya feelin' me?!"

Tony Jr: "Yeah, I'm feelin' ya. But, this caution should save us enough that you can really race now. I'll let ya know before we go green..."

Today's Stats
Started: 18th
Finished: 3rd
Led: Once for 25 laps
Points: 2nd (gained one position)
Best Pit Stop: Stop number one of six / Lap 35 / Four tires and fuel/ 13.45 seconds

Nothing's better than a cold Bud at the end of a long day. Unless you drink one while logging in to www.Budweiser.com for all of the latest Dale Jr. news, games, music, short films and more! True.

-dei/budweiser

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Tony Eury Jr.