Johnson Wins Again, Dale Jr. 14th at Texas Bud Team Leads 12 Laps but Fades to the Finish Jimmie Johnson won his third consecutive race, coming out on the victorious end of a sparkling side-by-side battle with Matt Kenseth in the final 15 laps...
Johnson Wins Again, Dale Jr. 14th at Texas
Bud Team Leads 12 Laps but Fades to the Finish
Jimmie Johnson won his third consecutive race, coming out on the victorious end of a sparkling side-by-side battle with Matt Kenseth in the final 15 laps of the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson's ninth victory of 2007 moves him into the points lead with two races remaining in the Chase for the Championship. Kenseth held on for second place while Martin Truex Jr., the Bud Pole Award winner, finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team led for the ninth time in 11 starts at the Texas track, heading the field for 12 laps before struggling with an ill-handling racecar in the final half of the event to finish 14th. Dale Jr. remains in 13th place in Nextel Cup points, 68 markers ahead of Ryan Newman.
Dale Jr., starting 12th, remained at or near that position through the very early stages of the race, but discovered that the red Budweiser car would remain fast on longer runs while the rest of the field slowed. With that in mind, the team opted not to pit during several early yellow flag periods, which gave them prime track position and placed them among the top-five spots in the first 50 laps. Dale Jr. ran in second place for much of the next 80 laps, eventually leading a lap during pit stops, and then reassumed the lead on lap 133 when the team again stayed on-track while many of the other leaders made pit stops. As the air and track temperature cooled and shadows and darkness began to creep over the 1.5-mile oval, the handling of the No. 8 car deteriorated right along with the sunlight. Despite the troubles, they stayed among the top-10 positions until lap 237 (of 334 total), and then slowly dropped back to spend much of the final 100 laps in or around the 15th position.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"We did the best we could with a car that just wouldn't cooperate. I can't carry that thing on my back all day. We couldn't have been any better than we were in the practice session yesterday, but the car and the track were both different today. I started the race thinking we would be the car to beat. But, even when we were leading or were running up front, we never found the balance and I knew we were nothing but a moving target for the faster guys to avoid. It's hard to explain: it was loose.... it was tight... it was slow. It ain't no fun to run like that but we hung in there and stayed on the lead lap. We made an extra stop (on lap 276) for fuel-only, and we thought we might sneak in there on the fuel-mileage game when no one else could make it to the finish, but when the next caution came out, that was it for that attempt. The rest of the field would kill us on every restart. That's aggravating: to see them just rocket off into the distance. We would be better in the long run, but they'd be long gone by the time we'd find the sweet spot..."
Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr. was not only the featured in-race reporter for the ABC telecast, but was also contacted mid-race by the Performance Racing Network while leading the race under a yellow-flag period...
PRN Producer (ear-shatteringly loud): "Dale Jr., this is PRN, can you talk?"
Dale Jr.: "Yeah... if you whisper..." PRN Producer: "Is this not a good time?"
Dale Jr.: "Nah... you guys are just too loud!"
PRN Host (equally as loud): "Well good luck, there's a lot of red in the stands!"
Dale Jr.: (matter-of-fact) "Hell yeah... it's Texas!"
Dale Jr. - despite the struggles - remained in the top-five for much of first two-thirds of the race. On lap 160, a piece of paper became lodged on the nose of the Bud Chevrolet...
Tony Gibson (crew chief): "There's a little bit of trash on the nose. If you can get up under him (the car of Casey Mears), it'll take care of it..."
Dale Jr. (after passing Mears but with the debris still on the grille): "Hell! You want me to get the paper off and I can barely drive the thing?! (pause) Just kidding! Don't get all offended! (no response) It's 230 (degrees, water temperature)."
Gibson: "10-4. You're fine..."
The driver became more agitated and animated as the race continued...
Dale Jr. (on lap 220): "I still can't go! I'm wreckin!" TJ Majors (spotter): "You're doin' good. You're not losin' much on the restarts."
Dale Jr.: "I'm losing my frickin' mind!"
Majors: "You're doin' fine."
Dale Jr: "You'd think I could could get through (turns) one and two wide-open. But I can't."
Gibson: "We could add some bite and see if that would help."
Dale Jr.: "Bite would be OK, but I'd be bitchin' about it after 25 laps! I just have no ability to turn. The whole car is bottled up."
Gibson: "We went up on air pressure... did that help?"
Dale Jr: "You don't see my ass passin' anybody, do ya?!"
As the race wore on and multiple yellow flags slowed the action, thoughts turned elsewhere for driver and crew...
Dale Jr. (on lap 303): "Hungry..."
Gibson: "Yeah, I could go for some ribs myself..."
Majors: "I just heard the Redskins won by three in overtime."
Dale Jr: "Hey! Who did they play? Buffalo?"
Majors: "No... the Jets."
Dale Jr: "Ah. The battle of two sorry teams..."
Majors: "Look out, the 36 car is coming up the middle for some reason. It's (Mike) Skinner."
Dale Jr: "Ha! Skinner... he's probably out here drivin' in boots..."