Earnhardt Jr. Dominates Again at Talladega Superspeedway
No. 8 Budweiser Team Leads 133 Laps, Takes Second Straight Win at Talladega
Talladega, AL - Dale Earnhardt Jr. added to his already impressive resume at the largest and fastest NASCAR superspeedways with a win Sunday in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega (Al.) Superspeedway. The Budweiser team grabbed their second straight win at the 2.66-mile track with a dominating performance, leading the race 10 different times for 133 (of 188 total) laps. Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Michael Waltrip finished second, which is the third time in the last five superspeedway races that the teammates have finished in the top two positions. Kurt Busch was third. The victory - coupled with the bonus points for leading the most laps - launches Dale Jr. into fifth position in Winston Cup points. It is their highest points position since the first race of the 2001 season. The victory is the team's sixth in 84 races, and it marks the first time that the team has won a second time at a particular track. Today's win also marks the first victory of the season for Chevrolet.
The Key Moment: Dale Jr., starting fourth, was caught in the outside line on the first lap and was shuffled back to eighth place. From that point on, Dale Jr. went forward and stayed there for the remainder of the race. He first took the lead on lap nine, with drafting help from his teammate Michael Waltrip. The two DEI drivers led a combined total of 147 laps. The duo ran at or near the front with the help of blazing pits stops, especially from the Budweiser team. In four stops, the Bud pit crew never failed to send Dale Jr. back into action ahead of the field. Dale Jr. was ahead of the field when a huge multi-car accident slowed the field on lap 165, and he stayed in the lead until a late-race red flag on lap 181 stopped the action completely for more than 15 minutes to clean the track of debris and fluids. The red flag did nothing to stop the momentum, as Dale Jr. kept the red Bud car ahead of the pack for the remaining laps, crossing the finish line .060 of a second ahead of Waltrip.
Dale Jr's Quotes: "I wanna thank all of the guys who worked on this car. This is the same car that we won with at Daytona and here last year, but we banged it up a bit at Daytona in February. We put a new body on it but we didn't get to take it to the wind tunnel, so it was kind of an unknown. But - it worked great. The guys who do the engines and the fabricating on these things did their job - and all I had to do today was to keep it ahead of the pack. And I owe so much to my teammate Michael. As excited as I was when I crossed the finish line, I was disappointed for him because I know the feeling of running second when you really want and need a win. Michael and I work well together at these restrictor-plate tracks, and when we work together, we're hard to beat."
"I led a lot - and sometimes it seemed almost effortless. I always had somebody good behind me - pushing me and holding off the rest of the guys. I really worried when the red flag came out. You sit there and you have a lot of time to thing and worry. It seemed like no one else wanted to lead the race early on - so I worried that maybe they were holding back until the last few laps. The leader is the most vulnerable out there - everyone else can gang up on ya, and I was worried it was gonna get crazy."
"I put a lot of emphasis on Daytona and Talladega. They are my favorite tracks, and I love racing at 'em. I learned a lot watching my dad. When I first got to Daytona, I thought I was gonna pull out all his moves and be better than everyone else, but I found out I was wasn't any better than the rest of them. Daddy and I never talked about it, but I began to learn a lot of things that he did, and I feel like that helps me. But, I will say, you can't learn to run up front until you have a car that can do it. I know that if I was out there today in just about any other car, I wouldn't be sitting here right now talking about a win."
"I ran a really high line in the middle section of the race just because I enjoy it up there. There's not as much grip and you can really drive the car. It's just fun. I wanted to go up there and see who would follow me - and the whole field did. I wanted to dictate where they were running and spread the field out a bit. I was watching close to see who would try to run on the bottom - and they'd pull out and just drop back. Finally Michael and a few guys got together to run the low line, and I was kinda forced to move down to block their momentum. Then I knew I had a teammate behind me at the end - and that's the best hand to be holding at the end."
"Right now, I'm having a blast. I want to be a part of this sport for a long time, so it's important to me to get wins and good, consistent finishes. I mean, I want to be known as one of the greatest drivers in the sport when I'm done. I think we're in position now to challenge for a championship."
Best Radio Conversations
Leading for much of the day, Dale Jr. would often talk to the team while (in his words) "chillin'" at 185 mph.
Dale Jr: "I'm getting nervous here. I mean, when you're up front ridin,' you have time to worry about what can go wrong…"
Ty Norris (spotter): "Michael (Waltrip) wants to know how the view is up there in the catbird seat while he's right behind you fighting off the field."
Dale Jr: "It's good. I've been havin' some fun watching him battle. Tell him if he wants to pass me, go ahead!"
Within seconds, Waltrip made a bold move and took the lead…
Dale Jr: (laughing while in a three-wide scramble for second place) "Damn, it got busy pretty fast there…"
Ty Norris: "Yeah, Michael said he thought you were yawning…"
Later in the race, Dale Jr. decided to move from the bottom of the track to a much higher line through the turns. In response, almost the entire field of cars moved up to the higher line to follow.
Dale Jr: "Whhhoooooooooooo! That's bad-ass right there. Look at 'em!"
Ty Norris: "Yeah! You're playing with 'em man. They'll follow you. They'll go wherever you want them to go… Kenny (Wallace, who was running in second behind Jr) says he's not as comfortable behind ya in the high line."
Dale Jr: "Tell Kenny I'm gonna keep running high cuz' you can really drive the car. The car slides around up here. I can see Sterling (Marlin) and Rusty (Wallace) really wanna run at the bottom."
As the race neared an end, Dale Jr. continued to lead, but worried that his pursuers were saving their best for the end of the day.
Dale Jr: "Hey guys (talking to the team) I just want the points today. I mean, I wanna win. But, don't y'all want the points too? I want to win here - but I don't wanna end up on my roof, ya know? This car means too much to me. We're in this for a good finish OK - so y'all can get relaxed. Be happy with what we got here so far. I mean - y'all could be somewhere else right now - you could be a plumber or something. (laughs) A great car and great pit stops today. But we're having fun here. Hang on, and we'll see what happens."
Money Won: $184,830
Points Position: 5th
Laps Led: 10 times / 133 laps
Best Pit Stop: Lap 105 / 4 tires and Fuel
13.86 seconds / Second stop of the day
Thanks to Jade for this Budweiser Race Report!