Photo credit: Jim Garrahan - Thanks, Jim!
Dominant Day for Dale at Dover Downs
Dale Jr. and No. 8 Bud Team Win Patriotic MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400
Dover, DE - Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team brewed the competition Sunday, leading 193 of the 400 laps of the MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway and taking an emotional victory. The race was the first Winston Cup event following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the United States. A heart-tugging pre-race ceremony included more than 140,000 race fans waving American flags. To commemorate the victims of the attack, Dale Jr. drove a victory lap holding aloft a large American flag, and he also donated $75,000 to the relief effort (see details below). The red Budweiser car had been fast all weekend, qualifying third, and then dominated much of the race.
The Key Moment: Dale Jr. launched into the lead for the first time on lap three and never fell further than eighth place for the remaining laps as the team put together their second dominating win of the 2001 season. Earnhardt Jr. led most of the first half of the race, running easily among the top three positions until a slow pit stop dropped him to eighth place with 140 laps to go. From there, he methodically worked his way into third place on lap 329. He remained there until the leader Ricky Rudd spun out on lap 345. After the team’s final pit stop, they restarted in third place behind Dale Jarrett and Jerry Nadeau, but it took Dale Jr. only 12 laps to take the race lead that he would never again relinquish. His lead of three seconds was wiped out by a yellow flag on lap 388, but he was able to pull away on the final re-start and take the victory by a margin of 1.576 seconds.
Dale Jr’s Quotes: “I knew we were gonna be good, but I didn’t know we’d be THAT good. Before the race, Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd told me that if I ran like I did yesterday (in the final practice), I could walk away with it, but I never felt like we had it in our hands until I saw the checkered flag. We were really good early on, but in the middle stages we kind of struggled. I mean, we were still a top-three car, but we were just kind of chillin,’ keeping the leader in sight so we could make a run at the end.
“We had that bad pit stop, and fell to eighth, and I thought ‘well… there goes the race…’ but we fought back and then we had the fastest car the last 100 laps or so. I think Rudd’s spin (on lap 345) cost him the race. We may have been able to catch him, but I don’t think we could have passed him.
“Once we got the lead there with 40-some to go, I just tried to get as far ahead as I could. I was worried when that last yellow flag came out (with 12 laps to go). You don’t know how many times I have lost races on deals like that, but we got a good restart and held ‘em off. I learned some things from Andy Pilgrim and the guys on the Corvette team that I raced with (at the 24 Hours of Daytona in February). They taught me some things on restarts – like how to short-shift without spinning the tires. So, even though I lost a little ground in first gear, by the time we were at top speed I had great momentum and I could get a great first lap on every restart.”
About the emotions and patriotism of the day: “This feels different than any of our other wins. I mean, we love winning, but it felt odd to celebrate. I watched the Formula One guys last week in Europe, and when Juan Montoya won, they didn’t spray the champagne. My dad told me never to do any more burnouts after we won the Winston last year because it hurts the engine, so as I was coming around to head into pit lane, I thought about the big American flag we had in our pit area, and I asked them to bring it to me and I did a lap for the fans.
“It was neat to see the fan’s reaction… I mean we’ve all been sad the past couple of weeks, and it was neat to see the NASCAR fans show their spirit and their patriotism just like the baseball fans or football fans have done. It does make me proud that I’m American, and I feel honored that I was the one to win on a day like today. I mean, it didn’t matter who won, it was healing to be here and it was special to be together and feel like the NASCAR family was together for the country. The fans presented me -- and all of us drivers – with some real inspiration out there.”
About donating to help the children impacted by the recent tragedies: “My sister (Kelley) and I wanted to do something. We talked about it, and we decided we’d donate some money for the children. I mean, you sit on your couch and watch and you feel helpless. We wanted to do what we could to help."
About meeting Cal Ripken Jr: “He is just cool. Just the coolest guy in the place, ya know. Whether he wants to be or not, he’s a great role model. A great athlete to look up to. He does his job and then he goes home to his kids and his family and I think he’s someone we can all appreciate.”
Radio Chatter (the best moments of radio conversation during the race)
Dale Jr’s favorite recent movie is “Cast Away” starring Tom Hanks. In the movie, Hanks is stranded on a deserted island and “befriends” a Wilson-brand volleyball that washes up on the beach. Hanks’ character names the ball “Wilson.” During a recent race at Darlington, Dale Jr. complained to the crew that “y’all just make me feel like Tom Hanks out here, all alone. I should just get a volleyball to keep me company.” A team member purchased a volleyball and painted a face on it much like the one in the movie and surprised Dale Jr. with it before the final practice session Saturday. Dale Jr.enjoyed it so much, the team mounted the volleyball in the cockpit for today’s race…
Dale Jr. (during a yellow flag period early in the race): “I am watching the water temp(erature)… It’s about 220 degrees (Farenheit)… I was worried because I remember back in the days when 210 was all ya wanted to see…”
Jeff Clark (team engine specialist): “Hey man, Wilson says it’s OK…”
Dale Jr: “There ain’t no Wilson here…”
Tony Eury Sr. (crew chief): “Yeah, he’s there, but I’ll bet he’s all swollen up from the heat inside that car…He’s never seen heat like this.”
Dale Jr.: “Seriously? I don’t see him…”
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): “Yeah, he’s right there – behind your water bottle…”
Dale Jr.: “Hey! There he is! (calling out like Tom Hanks’ character in the movie) WILSONNNNNNNNNN! He’s in here man! I got a buddy…”
Dale Jr’s post race quotes about the movie and the volleyball: “I think Tom Hanks is good in about any movie, but I think that ‘Cast Away’ is awesome. I guess because I felt like I’ve been on a deserted island since my dad died in February. You know, I’m surrounded by people all the time, and thousands of people at the track, but I feel all alone, ya know. I said that to some of the people close to me, and they thought it would be fun to surprise me with it in the car. Now that we’ve won with it, maybe it brought me some luck too, so we may have to have that ball in there from now on.”
Race Notes / MBNA 400
For the Children
Dale Jr. will donate a minimum of $75,000 from today’s win to the Speedway Children’s Charities to benefit children who have been impacted by the terrorist attacks in the United States. JR. Motorsports, the company Dale Jr. owns, had pledged to donate $100 for every lap he completed, for a total of $40,000. He then promised to donate $10,000 for every pit stop completed by the Bud crew in less than 14 seconds during today’s race. The team had two such stops for another $20,000 donation. He also added $5,000 for each pit stop of less than 15 seconds, which added a final $15,000 to the total.
Points Points Points
Dale Jr. moved to sixth in Winston Cup points with the maximum amount of points this afternoon (race win, plus five bonus points for leading the race and another five points for leading the most laps). He has closed to a deficit of 15 points behind Sterling Marlin for fifth, within 78 points of Dale Jarrett for fourth and 87 points behind TonyStewart in third.
This is the fourth career victory for Dale Jr. and the No. 8 Bud team in 66 Winston Cup starts… this is their second victory of 2001… the team won two races at Dover in the Busch Series, but this is their first Cup win here… they have three top-10 finishes in four Dover starts… this is the team’s second straight top-three finish… it is their 12th top-10 of the season… the team has finished on the lead lap in 12 consecutive events… Dale Jr. led the most laps for the third race this season…. He has led 13 of the 27 races so far in 2001… 193 laps is the most Dale Jr. has ever led in a single Cup race…prior to the race, Dale Jr. met another famous Jr – Cal Ripken, today’s grand marshal. Ripken, who also carries the No. 8, autographed several items for Dale Jr…
Points Position: 6th
Money Won: $168,858
Laps Led: Five times for 193 laps
Best Pit Stop: Lap 201 / 4 tires and Fuel / 13.57 seconds
Thanks to Jade from BudPR for this information. Jim 8-)