Victory: Third in a Row for Dale Jr. at Talladega!
No. 8 Budweiser Team Wins Again, Grabs Million Dollar Bonus
Talladega, AL - For the third consecutive Winston Cup race at the Talladega Superspeedway, a red and black Chevrolet pulled into victory circle, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team won the EA Sports 500 Sunday afternoon. It is the second victory at the 2.66-mile oval this season for the team, and the second consecutive year that they have secured a million-dollar bonus from Winston at the EA Sports 500. Dale Jr. led six different times for 56 laps, including the final 39 laps of the race that was caution-free for the entire 188-lap distance. Earnhardt Jr. finished ahead of the new Winston Cup point leader Tony Stewart, who was second, and Ricky Rudd, who finished third. It is the first time since Buddy Baker in 1976 that a driver has won three consecutive races at Talladega, and gives Dale Jr. the most wins among all active drivers at the Alabama track in only three seasons of competition. It is the first time a driver has won both Talladega races in the same year since his late father, the seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, won both races in 1999. His third victory here is Dale Jr's seventh career Winston Cup victory in his 105th start.
The Key Moments: Starting thirteenth (based on points, as Bud Pole qualifying was rained out Friday afternoon), Dale Jr. streaked into second place by lap four, and took the lead for the first time on lap 18. For much of the afternoon, superior fuel mileage rather than sheer speed was the factor most in favor of the Bud bunch. While most teams were able to make only 32-35 laps per tank of fuel (due to a smaller fuel cell mandated by NASCAR for this event) the Bud team and the other cars from the Dale Earnhardt Inc. stable were able to stretch a tank of fuel at least 38 laps. The fuel economy, combined with a lack of caution periods, allowed Dale Jr. to dominate the late stages of the race while his DEI teammates Steve Park and Michael Waltrip finished sixth and eighth respectively. The ten bonus points for leading the most laps gives the Bud boys a league-leading 105 bonus points this season. The team has led the most laps at three different events in 2002.
Dale Jr's Quotes: "It was a great car. A great car. This is the same car that we've won all of these restrictor-plate races with, and it just does what I want it to do. (Crew chief) Tony Eury and Tony (Eury) Jr. just prepared a beautiful piece of a race car. We weren't as dominant here as we had been, because I think everyone else is a lot more competitive. They're catching up to us on these superspeedways, but we knew we had a good car and a great engine from (DEI chief engine builder) Richie Gilmore, so we hung tight with our plan and it worked out. To be that fast and to get that great of fuel mileage is unbelievable."
"Tony (Stewart) and those guys had a good enough car to pass me, but the pack kind of thinned out to four or five cars (at the end of the race). It's hard for just three or four cars to push one guy by the leader. You kind of need a whole pack back there really pushing... ya know, 35 or 40 other cars. My hat's off to Tony Stewart for being a friend there and helping me out, sticking behind me. He's a great race car driver, true competitor. Tony and I race real well together. We had our disagreements in the Busch Series, but we've become friends off the track. We can buddy-up on the track as well. There are people on the track that you know you can run with and guys that you know you can't run anywhere near. Michael (Waltrip) and I usually are great together, but for some reason today our cars just didn't run very quick when we were nose-to-tail. The 12 car (Ryan Newman) was fast and so was the 20 (Stewart) and when I hooked up with either of them, we could shoot to the front.
"Good job for the Bud team for the car they put together. I'm just holding the wheel back there, man. I ain't really doing much, just turning left every once in awhile. But, you don't luck into a win like this. No matter what you do as a driver, if the car won't do it, you're not going anywhere."
"I had so much fun out there racing with guys in the back of the top 10 or so. The most fun was leading the race early on and just taking that high line around the track. It feels like we're out there on old bias-ply tires, just kind of sliding sideways up near the wall. Damn, that's fun! You slide around and let it hang out there like they used to do. I just take the high line, and the whole pack of cars just kind of follows me up there. I watched my dad win a lot of races here and I always liked watching him do that. It's good to feel what he felt here - the confidence of knowing you're gonna run well and winning. It's a good boost for the team and a notch in the belt for us. We've had some big wins at places like Daytona and Talladega where it means a lot and the sponsors get their money's worth."
Best Radio Conversations
While racing three- and four-wide early in the race…
Dale Jr: "MAN! We're racin' like heck out here, huh guys?!? Whoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!"
Once Dale Jr. took the lead, he immediately moved up to take a high line near the wall all the way around the track.
Dale Jr: (having fun, with a hint of bragging) The top is where it's at! Ol' Junior'll show 'em the top! Look out! I'll have 'em all out here runnin' around like the ol' boys! Tell Michael (Waltrip) I'm havin' a ball!"
Later in the race, Dale Jr. scolded his spotter, Ty Norris.
Dale Jr: "C'mon Ty! I can't hear ya buddy! You're real faint! (pause… then returns to the mic, somewhat chagrined) OK, try it again. I think I'll hear ya better now that my earplug's in right. It was undone there for a bit…"
As Dale Jr. pulled into victory lane, he immediately looked for Debra Polzun of Manchester, Conn., who was paired with him in the Winston No Bull promotion. In addition to $1 million for the team, Winston also presented $1 million to Polzun.
Dale Jr: "Where's the millionaire lady?! Where's she at?!"
Started: 13th (based on points, due to Bud Pole qualifying rain-out)
Finished: 1st (second win this season, both at Talladega)
Points Position: 13th (no change)
Money Won: $1,166,040
Laps Led: 6 times for 56 laps (most laps led)
Best Pit Stop: Lap 111 / Stop #4 of 5 / 2 tires, Fuel / 8.54 seconds
Thanks to Jade for this Budweiser Race Report!