Jeff Gordon won his sixth consecutive Winston Cup road course race Sunday at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Budweiser Chevrolet team finished 24th in the Save-Mart 350. It marked the first Winston Cup...
Jeff Gordon won his sixth consecutive Winston Cup road course race Sunday at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the Budweiser Chevrolet team finished 24th in the Save-Mart 350. It marked the first Winston Cup start for Earnhardt Jr. on a road course. Sterling Marlin was second, followed by Mark Martin. Dale Earnhardt was sixth, as he continues to strive for a record eighth Winston Cup championship.
The Key Moment: Dale Jr. steadily gained positions early in the race, moving from his 31st starting position to as high as fourth place before making a pit stop on lap 44 (of 112). After that stop, Earnhardt Jr. was as fast as the leaders, despite spinning out and continuing on lap 56. The turning point came on the final pit stop for the Bud crew on lap 69. From that point until the finish, the car's tires would not respond under braking conditions and Earnhardt dropped back to his eventual finishing spot of 24th.
Dale Junior's Quotes: "That was a blast! We were really fast there in the middle of the race, the car was good and we were able to make some passes. This is really a fun course to drive. I love being able to just fly around there on the edge of control. There's just no place to relax at this place -- you have to concentrate the entire time."
About the last set of tires: "I had fun even when we were struggling. The only thing we changed on that last stop was the tires, and from then on we were junk. The rear tires would just hop and chatter under braking and they wouldn't grip exiting the corners. It felt like they were harder tires or something."
About the spin in the tight turn 11: "I'm pretty happy that I had only that one spin there. This is a tough track, and before the race my dad and a lot of other drivers told me if I kept it on the asphalt we could get a good finish. We spun out just that once and it didn't even hurt us that bad. I think we lost only one spot at the time."
Save-Mart 350 Race Notes
The String is Broken
Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's best qualifier, failed to qualify in the top 25 for the first time in his Winston Cup career. After 19 consecutive first-round qualifying efforts, he was forced to make a second qualifying attempt on Saturday, slotting into the starting line-up in 31st position. Earnhardt Jr. is still the only Winston Cup driver with an average starting position of less than 10.
What's The Point?
Despite finishing outside of the top 20 for the first time in more than two months, Dale Jr. gained three points in the heated rookie-of-the-year battle with Matt Kenseth. Following each race beginning next week in Daytona, each rookie driver will be able to drop their worst finishes from their rookie point total, which will allow Earnhardt Jr. to close the gap even further on Kenseth. Following next weeks' race (the half-way point of the 2000 season) the complex rookie point system will require a slide rule and super-computer to tabulate.