Pocono II: Earnhardt Jr race report

Kurt Busch Wins at Pocono, Dale Jr. Second Bud Team Leads Eight Laps, Grabs Season-Best Finish Kurt Busch dominated a mundane Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway Sunday, leading a track-record 174 of the 200 laps. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No....

Kurt Busch Wins at Pocono, Dale Jr. Second
Bud Team Leads Eight Laps, Grabs Season-Best Finish

Kurt Busch dominated a mundane Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway Sunday, leading a track-record 174 of the 200 laps. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team recovered from a lengthy mid-race pit stop to change the left-front shock absorber to lead eight laps and finish a season-best second place. It matches Dale Jr.'s best Pocono finish - equaling his finish in July, 2001. Denny Hamlin finished third. The No. 8 team started from the Bud Pole for the first time since the race at Kansas in Sept. 2002, and ran among the top-10 for the first 110 laps until severely deteriorating handling sent Dale Jr. for a spin while coming to the pit lane on lap 123. After several stops - including changing the left-front shock in slightly more than 90 seconds - Dale Jr. restarted in 26th then barreled through the field until taking the lead on lap 145. Ironically, despite the season-best finish, Dale Jr. dropped one position in the Nextel Cup standings, falling to 13th place with five races remaining before the start of the Chase for the Championship. This is the first top-three tally of the season for Dale Jr., who scored his fourth top-five and eighth top-10 in 21 starts this year. The team has now started in sixth-place or better in five of the last six races.

Key Moments:

Dale Jr., starting from his seventh career Bud Pole position, ran in the top-three for the first 30 laps despite complaints about the handling of the No. 8 racecar. After several adjustments during pit stops, the car continued to be a handful for Junior, as he struggled to get the car to turn down into each of Pocono's three odd and distinct corners. Despite a less-than-happy driver, the lap times and pit stops remained quick, and the team held their place in the top-five until the car worsened just past the halfway point of the race. The handling became so bad, Dale Jr. believed he had a flat tire and spun on his way to pit lane on lap 123. The team changed tires, then brought him back to the pit lane to change the left-front shock absorber. The dramatic change showed immediate results, as Junior launched himself from 26th place to 13th place in only nine laps, and then improved further when the team made a strategic move, changing only two tires on a lap 139 pit stop. Dale Jr. restarted third on lap 142, and needed only three laps to sweep into the lead. It was the first time the No. 8 Bud car had led at Pocono since July, 2003. Even though Kurt Busch was able to get around Dale Jr. for the lead, the Bud car remained fast and held the second position to the finish line.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"I'm thrilled. It's great to come home with such a great finish after we started the day with a crazy set of front shocks. (Crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. and the guys made a great call to change that shock. That's a helluva job right there. The car was traveling (up and down) too much in the corners, and it was bouncing all over the place. It was terrible and I was a pretty angry and frustrated driver the first half of the race. But, once we made the change - and didn't lose a lap - we were great. The car really responded and I was really happy we were able to show our speed. We were a top-five car easily but we busted our (butts) to get the track position and hang onto second place.

"We're not worried about the point standings - I'm driving as hard as I can every lap. And, if we all work as hard as we can, where we finish, we finish. We're way better than a 13th-place team, we've just had bad luck all year. My guys really deserve this finish because we've been a top-five car almost every week but we were falling victim to engine failures and things like that. We finally had a chance to make it to the finish to prove it. I can't worry about finishing behind the #2 car (Kurt Busch). They were just too good today - far faster than anyone else. You follow him and you just hope to see some smoke coming outta his car, ya know?! No one was going to catch him so you kind of sit back there and hope something happens. I really drove the last 50 laps in the mirror, watching the cars behind me and hangin' onto second.

Best Radio Chatter:

Dale Jr. ran among the top-five for the first half of the race, but became increasingly agitated and frustrated as the handling deteriorated on the Bud car...

Dale Jr (on lap 37): "It's real real real tight. It's about a '20' on a '10' scale! There ain't no way I can get through turn one. I've tried every way I can and there ain't no way I can get through it. It's bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy! We gotta do something to turn without being so bouncy in the corners. It's coil-binding like hell - it just wants to go straight. I've gotta stay on the brakes just to get it into the middle of the corner..."

***

The dissatisfaction continued on lap 64...

Dale Jr: (to crew chief Eury Jr.) "I don't wanna bitch about it anymore. It'll just piss ya off. If we can't change it, I'll have to deal with it. Just tell me there's no alternative to what we got and I'll quit bitchin...' I get so frustrated because I'm not doing anything. I'm not even sweating. I have to ease it in every corner. I can't drive it hard - I have to back up my entry and just ease it down into the corner. It's frustrating because I can't make a difference."

Tony Eury Jr: "We could change a shock, but I don't wanna lose all that track position."

***

The driver continued to struggle - even believing he had a flat tire - before spinning out coming to pit lane on lap 123. The loss of positions finally convinced Eury Jr. to make the decision to change the left front shock.

Dale Jr: (lap 106) "It's way worse - which I didn't think was possible - but it is..."

***

After the shock change - and a banzai run up the standings, the driver was again energized...

Dale Jr. (lap 137 after gaining 13 positions in less than 10 laps): "Hell yeah! It's way better, way better now. I lost a little right-side grip after awhile, but it's a small issue now. Not like it was."

***

After sweeping into the lead, Dale Jr. held off Busch until lap 153. Eury Jr: "You're doing really good, Junebug. He's (Busch) got four fresh tires and it's about five seconds back to the next car. Doin' real good!"

Dale Jr. "10-4. Thanks. Now, I'll get back to work..."

Eury Jr: "OK, pit next time by..."

Dale Jr.: (to his pit crew) "Alright - gimme a (expletive deleted) good one!" (the final stop of the day saw the team change four tires and add fuel in 12.77 seconds.)

-credit: dei

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Kurt Busch , Denny Hamlin