Rockingham: Earnhardt Jr race report

Dale Jr. fifth at Rockingham, leads NEXTEL Cup points; No. 8 Budweiser Team records career-best finish at "The Rock". ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb. 22, 2004) -- Matt Kenseth held off rookie Kasey Kahne in a photo finish at North Carolina Motor Speedway...

Dale Jr. fifth at Rockingham, leads NEXTEL Cup points; No. 8 Budweiser Team records career-best finish at "The Rock".

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb. 22, 2004) -- Matt Kenseth held off rookie Kasey Kahne in a photo finish at North Carolina Motor Speedway on Sunday, winning the Subway 400. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team notched their career-best finish at the track with a fifth place. Dale Jr.'s previous best at "The Rock" was 13th (November, 2003). With his second top-five in as many weeks, Dale Jr. remains atop the championship point standings with a seven-point lead over Kenseth. Jamie McMurray finished third.

The Key Moments:
With Dale Jr. fighting a loose condition, the Bud team found good fortune with timely yellow flags and savvy pit strategy. The fourth caution on lap 194 saved Dale Jr. from falling a lap down to the leaders, while the seventh and final caution on lap 351 eliminated several contenders who were caught in the midst of green-flag pit stops. When the field returned to racing, Dale Jr. restarted fifth, closing out the final 31 green-flag laps unchallenged by his closest pursuers, Ryan Newman and Rusty Wallace.

Dale Jr. Quotes:

"We got really lucky all day long catching people a lap down. We were really loose and the car was hard to drive, but I knew I just had to stay on the lead lap and get whatever finish I could get. I about drove right into the fence watching Kasey (Kahne) try to get his first win. That was an awesome finish. He's a cool dude, and I'm sure he's ecstatic.

"We've never been that great here. We tested here last year. This is admittedly my worst track in the series, and I'm sure my fans are breathing a big sigh of relief right now. We were just trying to squeak through here and do the best we can. The guys did a great job today adjusting on the car. (Car chief) Tony Eury Jr. made some great calls with pit strategy, and we were able to hang in there and get a top five. I think coming out of here with a top five is great. We were obviously real lucky today. We were fortunate on a lot of things. But even when you've got a great car, if you can find a way to get a good finish you're going to win championships. Matt (Kenseth) did that a lot last year. But we had good pit strategy and got lucky with the yellow flags and we got us a great finish. We didn't have a top five car but we got a top five. That's what you've got to do to. That wins championships."

Best Radio Conversations:
With the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet handling properly, Dale Jr. clawed his way to eighth place despite being bogged down in lapped traffic. The sixth caution came out on lap 263 when Carl Long's car flipped repeatedly down the backstretch:

Dale Jr.: "I wore half my (tires) out racing these guys (lapped cars)."

Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): "Do you wanna leave (the car) as is and just put four tires on it?

Dale Jr.: "Nah, man, just keep doing what you're doing. The car ain't perfect. You're going the right way, just keep doing whatever you're doing. (Long pause) Home boy (Long) rolled the hell outta his car, didn't he?"

Tony Jr.: "Yeah he rolled about five times."

Dale Jr.: "Alright, we're looking at one more stop here, right?"

Tony Jr.: "10-4. One more."

Dale Jr.: "What place was I running when that caution came out?"

Tony Jr.: "Right where you are now... eighth place."

Dale Jr.: "We must be running a lot better, because I was backing up before."

Tony Jr.: Yeah, you were about as fast as the leader right there. You're doin' great."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, I was so happy it was running good I wore the (car) out. I was trying not to race. But when you start to catch 'em, you wanna race 'em. I need to run the same lap, same line, same throttle every time. It's hard. Whatever that last set of tires was, it really helped. It was sooooo much better."

Still under the sixth caution:
Dale Jr.: "I'd give anything to know what's under the (number) nine car (Kahne)."

Tony Jr.: "I'd like to know about the 17 (Kenseth). The nine is good, but the 17 is real good."

Dale Jr.: " "That nine is the best one."

Tony Jr.: "Yeah, but you got a rookie driver (in the number nine). I don't know if he can handle them guys up there, but he's gotta good car. The 17 just jumps right out there on the get-go, and no one can keep up."

After taking the checkered flag:
Dale Jr.: A top-five finish! That's fan-tabulous, boys! No dents, no dings, everything's in order.

DALE JR. ON LARRY KING LIVE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. will wrap-up a furious week of media appearances following his victory in last week's Daytona 500 with an appearance on Larry King Live on CNN, Monday night at 9 p.m. (ET). Dale Jr. will spend the entire hour via satellite from his home in Mooresville, N.C. Jeff Gordon will also appear on the show.

-budweiser/dei-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Rusty Wallace , Jamie McMurray , Carl Long , Tony Eury Jr.