Stewart goes to victory lane, long day for Dale Jr.; No. 8 Budweiser team repairs crashed race car to finish 36th Tony Stewart continued to be the man to beat at Richmond International Raceway, as he won the rain-delayed Pontiac Excitement 400....
Stewart goes to victory lane, long day for Dale Jr.; No. 8 Budweiser team repairs crashed race car to finish 36th
Tony Stewart continued to be the man to beat at Richmond International Raceway, as he won the rain-delayed Pontiac Excitement 400. It is Stewart's third win at Richmond since 1999. The race began under the lights Saturday evening, but was halted after 66 laps by persistent rain and restarted Sunday afternoon. Stewart beat impressive rookie Ryan Newman and Jeff Burton across the finish line. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team started on the front row and ran strong at the front of the field Saturday evening, but were less than successful in the heat of today's sunlight. A spin into the wall on lap 149 sent Dale Jr. and the Bud team to the garage for more than 32 minutes. When they returned to action, they were 56 laps behind the leaders. The team managed to gain six spots during the remainder of the race, and finished 36th for the second consecutive week. It is their worst finish ever at Richmond since they finished 10th in their first Cup race here in 1999. The poor finish dropped them three positions in the Winston Cup point standings to 12th place.
The Key Moments: Dale Jr. and the Bud team have been superb at Richmond at night. They won two night-time Busch races here, grabbed their second Winston Cup victory at this race in 2000, and qualified second for this weekend's event. When the race began Saturday night, the Bud car was awesome, running easily in second position until a pit stop on lap 62. A balky lug nut on the left front wheel slowed the stop, and the team dropped to 15th place. The rain stopped the race four laps later. When the race resumed 14 hours later Sunday afternoon, Dale Jr. wasted little time slicing into seventh place in less than 20 laps, but the track and the race car did not respond as well as before. The ill-handling car became worse and worse on an ever-increasing lap-by-lap basis, and Dale Jr. dropped back eight positions in less than 30 laps. Trying hard to keep up, Dale Jr. spun the car and scraped the turn four wall on lap 149. Extensive repairs to replace the oil tank and the entire rear-end driveline took 32 minutes, and they limped home 73 laps behind Stewart.
Dale Jr's Quotes: "The car was really good Saturday night. (Early leader Ward) Burton and I seemed to be able to pull away from the field. But, it was a much different deal today. The set-up to run at night just didn't do anything for us in the heat and the sunlight. It started off all right, but then it just got looser and looser. The sealer that they put on the track was breaking up outside the groove, and I think I was just pushing too hard to keep up and got into the loose stuff and lost the back of the car off of turn four. It makes it a tough day with a track that's breaking up that bad.
"It's frustrating to have to limp around like that to score points. We have to do it to get every single position we can for the points, but it's no fun to hear that you have to go another 50 laps just to make-up on spot because someone else crashed or dropped out. This is another example of the guys working their butts off to get me back out there, so I did all I could to keep the car going straight the rest of the day."
Best Radio Conversations
It was another frustrating day for the Bud bunch, so the usual entertaining banter on the team radios was reduced to long periods of silence. After the crash, the team pieced the car back together and sent Dale Jr. back on track. Five laps after rejoining the field, Dale Jr. reported on the condition of the car.
Dale Jr: "It doesn't drive too bad actually. It doesn't feel too bad but when I turn in to the left it feels like I have a flat tire, but if I turn right, it's OK. It's just a tic on the free side, but I kinda like it."
The remainder of the day was spent watching the lap counter, trying to gain positions as a series of accidents knocked other cars out of the race. After a multi-car crash on lap 226, Dale Jr. began doing the math
Dale Jr.: "We might be able to pick up some spots here How many laps are we behind? How many cars are out? We can catch up to the 18 (Bobby Labonte) but we'll see if we can make up 10 laps on 'im. His car looks like it's in worse shape than ours out here"
Points Position: 12th
Best Pit Stop: Lap 233 / 4 tires and Fuel / 15.86 seconds (Fourth stop of the race)