Jeff Gordon Wins Talladega, Dale Jr. Out With Engine Issues Bud Team Leads 31 Laps But Drops Out with Engine Failure Jeff Gordon won Sunday's Ford/UAW 500 at Talladega, making him the active driver with the most victories at the Alabama ...
Jeff Gordon Wins Talladega, Dale Jr. Out With Engine Issues
Bud Team Leads 31 Laps But Drops Out with Engine Failure
Jeff Gordon won Sunday's Ford/UAW 500 at Talladega, making him the active driver with the most victories at the Alabama superspeedway. Going into today's race, he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been tied with five wins at Talladega, which trailed only the late Dale Earnhardt's 10 victories. Gordon extended his point lead in the Chase for the Nextel Cup while his teammate Jimmie Johnson finished second and Dave Blaney finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team finished 40th, as they suffered their seventh DNF (did not finish) of the season when the engine exploded on lap 136. This is the sixth time this season the team has suffered an engine failure, and the seven DNFs matches their career worst season, equaling their total for the 2000 rookie season. Until the demise of the powerplant, Dale Jr. was his usual self at Talladega, where he has won a personal-best five times since 2001, leading 31 laps and running among the top-five positions for much of the afternoon. Dale Jr. has led in 14 of his 16 career starts at Talladega for a total of 570 laps, or more than 1516 miles.
Dale Jr., starting 26th, stayed near mid-pack for the first 10 laps while the furious racing at the front calmed down. Once he was ready to make his move, he sliced into the top-10 on lap 12 with ease. After a pit stop on lap 19, Dale Jr. soon passed eight cars on lap 28 to move back into the top-10 and then effortlessly jumped into the top-five two laps later. On lap 31, Dale Jr. passed four cars to move into the lead for the first time, sending the raucous Talladega crowd into an uproar. From there, he lead a single-file line of cars until making a green flag pit stop on lap 60. Dale Jr. would again reclaim the top spot on lap 91 until making a pit stop on lap 94. He would run most of the next 40 laps among the top-10 positions until the engine blew while he was running in a three-wide pack of cars. Dale Jr. was able to get the car down to the apron without spinning or crashing into the huge, snarling beasts behind him.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"We had a good car and it's hard to be too upset when we ran so well and the guys worked so hard to give us the horsepower we need. When you're pushing everything to the edge, sometimes that means you're not as reliable as you should be, but I'd much rather go out racing for the win than hang around at the back because we can't keep up. This sport is about taking those kinds of risks, and I think we were going to have a great shot to win the race. I feel worse for Martin (Truex Jr, teammate, who also suffered a blown engine). He's out there racing for a championship and it hurts them a lot to go out early. We were setting ourselves up to win that thing. We went to the front early on and we were just kind of hangin' out for a lot of laps. It's boring really to just ride around like that, but it's the first restrictor plate race for the CoT (Car of Tomorrow), so we'll see if it'll be better next time."
About this being the final race with cousin/crew chief Tony Eury Jr, who is leaving to join Hendrick Motorsports: "It's the end of an era. It's kinda sad because it would have meant a lot for me and him to get a victory this season and celebrate together with all of the guys and the people we've been with for so many years. I know and they know we all put our heart and soul into everything we could to try to get that win, but it wasn't meant to be."
Tony Eury Jr. (quotes on his final race with Dale Earnhardt Inc. He goes to work Monday morning for Hendrick Motorsports): "It was really hard for me Wednesday, which was my last day at the shop. That was a much tougher day for me than it was today to know I was walking out of there for the final time. I mean, that place (DEI) and those people are what made me - and I will always want them to be proud of me no matter where I am or what I do. I have a lot of good friends there and I don't want that to change. I always want to keep them as close friends, but this is an opportunity to move on and get started on the future. We worked to have the cars ready for the rest of the season and all the guys will do fine with Tony Gibson (new crew chief) in charge."
Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr. is known to complain about his racecars, but today's was a case of - to borrow the wise words of MRN radio reporter Winston Kelly - "premature whining..."
Dale Jr. (on lap 26 while in 17th place): "What's wrong with this thing?!?"
TJ Majors (spotter): "What's that?"
Dale Jr.: "This thing doesn't run at all!"
After that comment, it was less than five laps later when Dale Jr. swept into the lead on lap 31, and held it easily until pitting on lap 60!
While running in the lead, and with the entire pack in a single file line behind him, Dale Jr. became bored - and his mind wandered elsewhere at nearly 200 mph.
Dale Jr: "What are you doin' in there Tony Jr?!"
Tony Eury Jr: "Tryin' to watch your in-car camera on my little screen. Just watchin' you lead."
Dale Jr: "What's the score on the (Washington Red)'skins game?!"
Eury Jr: "14-3, Redskins on top."
Dale Jr: "Hell yeah!"
Four laps later, still bored...
Dale Jr: "What place is Jacque Villeneuve in?"
Eury Jr: "He's kinda hangin' out in the back. He's runnin' 30th right now."
Dale Jr: (about the lack of action) "Here's another example of why these races are 100 or 200 miles too long."
Eury Jr: "Yeah, it's one of those bizarre events. 42 cars in a straight line."
Dale Jr: "Yeah! No one wants to do anything."
On lap 71, while in a tight pack.
Majors: "NASCAR says to be careful with bumping in the corners."
Dale Jr: "We weren't bumping! I was a half-inch off his rear bumper!"
Dale Jr: "Hey fellas, make sure ya get all the lugs tight. It's not bad but I've got a small vibration. I think we've got one lug a little loose. Make sure ya got 'em all tight.... (long pause) Any updates on the 'skins?"
Eury Jr: "Skins, 24-3."
Dale Jr: "Alright! We're gonna get us a win! Is it the 4th quarter yet?"
On lap 136, after the engine exploded...
Dale Jr. "Hey... that sucked..."