Sears Point: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

Gordon Wins His First Race of '06 at California Road Course Day-long fight for Bud Team Ends With 26th-place finish Jeff Gordon passed Terry Labonte on lap 88 of 112 and held off Ryan Newman in a three-lap sprint to the checkers to win ...

Gordon Wins His First Race of '06 at California Road Course
Day-long fight for Bud Team Ends With 26th-place finish

Jeff Gordon passed Terry Labonte on lap 88 of 112 and held off Ryan Newman in a three-lap sprint to the checkers to win Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. It is Gordon's first win of the season and ninth career road-course victory. Newman, Labonte, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five finishers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed many cars in his #8 Budweiser Chevrolet on Sunday, but a tag-from-behind just past the halfway point and a last-lap spin took its toll as the Bud team finished 26th. As a result, Dale Jr. slipped one spot in the Nextel Cup point standings to fifth but is just eight points out of fourth and 16 out of third as the Cup Series heads to Daytona this Saturday.

Key Moments: Starting 26th, Dale Jr.'s toughest adversary wasn't any one competitor but the collective mid-pack traffic customary to road-course racing. Even so, he used patience and precision to steadily climb into the top-20 on two separate occasions in the early stages, the latter of which was a remarkable jump from 27th to 19th in only five green-flag laps. The Bud Chevy was in its highest position of the afternoon -- 16th -- and running lap times as quick as the leaders when it received a hearty shove from behind by Scott Pruett. The wreck forced Junior to make an untimely green-flag pit stop on lap 62 to repair damage, sending him back to 35th position and completely skewing the Bud team's pit strategy. Still, Junior mounted a furious charge, taking a restart with three laps to go in 22nd and climbing as high as 19th on the final lap before a single-car spin knocked him back to where he started the day.

Dale Jr. Quotes: "We struggled all day with the handle of the car. It's frustrating when you know what you want the car to do, and it just doesn't do it. We hurt ourselves by qualifying where we did. Track position is really important here, and from start to finish we never had it. I really wanted a good finish here, because we've had cars that were capable of a good finish, but today wasn't our day. It's frustrating, because even after all we had to go through, I was in position to salvage a decent finish and leave here with decent points. I don't know what happened on the last lap. The car got loose and just ran out from under me. No idea why. It was the story of our afternoon. But we'll get over it. We've got a big race coming up in Daytona this week. I always love going to Daytona, and it's as good a place as any to get back on track."

Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr.'s road-racing skills were put to a test on the very first lap, as he had to take evasive action to miss a massive six-car wreck that brought out the first of two red flags on the afternoon:

Dale Jr.: "Man, I can't believe the 21 came back across the track like that... Was it just the 21 and 14 involved in that?"

Steve Hmiel (spotter): "You had the 14, 21, and 27. The 26 I think he just spun out."

Dale Jr.: "Ten-four."

Hmiel: "The 26 car is sitting there about 10 cars behind you... He spun out on the start, got caught up, and then spun in that mess over there... twice in one lap."

Dale Jr.: "I got loose right there in front of (Tony) Junior taking the green. Don't know what the deal was."

Tony (Eury) Jr.: "The 42 and 07 were also involved. The 07 has the rear quarter panel tore off it."

Dale Jr.: "Alright, thank you for that."

Tony Jr.: "They're blowing that corner off. It shouldn't be much longer (under the red flag)."

Dale Jr.: "That's cool. I just want to know who's involved in crashes. The more I know, the more I feel in control of what's happening."

Between the restart on lap 41 and the third yellow flag on lap 46, Dale Jr. climbed from 27th to 19th.

Hmiel: "Caution is out, you're clear. Pace car has 'em in turn two."

Dale Jr.: "The car was pretty good there... Whups, I think talked on ya there, what did you say?"

Hmiel (borrowing a line from the movie Talladega Nights: "I said 'Shake and Bake, El Diablo!"

Dale Jr.: "Haha! Hell yeah! (Pause) You got it picking the front tires through high-speed fourth-gear corner... you got me good and snug, helped me out a lot. I'll let you know on the forward-bite issue."

Tony Jr.: "Ten-four. You shout it out when you come by here. I can hear you everywhere, so if you want to tell me what it's doing before the next pit stop, just shout it out, and I'll hear you, and I won't bother you so much. You've done good, we're back to where we were before we pitted, and we've tightened it up and we've got a better car."

Having fought his way back from 35th position after a mid-race accident,

Dale Jr. was in sizing up his chances for a decent finish during a red-flag period five laps from the checkers:

Dale Jr.: "Steve, are you around the 66 spotter?"

Hmiel: "I'm here with him, what do you want to say?"

Dale Jr.: "Well, I'm pretty good on tires. He can make it as hard as he wants to, or he can give (the position) up and I can make us some holes."

Hmiel: "That's pretty much the conversation we had."

Tony Jr.: "Remember that speech I gave you about patience yesterday?JYou can throw all that out the window."

Dale Jr.: "Yeah, I may have to do that... This is my life. It's what I do. I've got to go for it."

-dei

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Terry Labonte , Kurt Busch , Scott Pruett