Dale Jr. Wins Fourth Straight at Talladega
Dale Jr. and No. 8 Budweiser Team Make 17 Pit Stops, Still Win
Talladega, AL - They earned this one.
After three consecutive dominating victories at Talladega Superspeedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team somehow managed to win their record-setting fourth straight race at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. After an engine change on race morning, the team was forced to start last and then survived a multi-car crash on lap four with minor damage. To repair the damage to the Budweiser car, the team made 15 pit stops during the first 89 laps of the race, managing to stay on the lead lap while finally working their way into the lead for the first time on lap 107 (of 188 laps). Once up front, it was a constant shuffle as Dale Jr. made breathtaking moves to continually fight among the top 10. He took the lead for the final time on lap 187, and held off second-place finisher Kevin Harvick and Elliot Sadler, who finished third. This is the first victory of the 2003 season for the team, and the eighth victory of Dale Jr’s Winston Cup career. It is the fourth top-five finish in the last six races for the Budweiser team, and it moves them into second place in NASCAR Winston Cup points after eight races. That matches their career-best points position. (Dale Jr. also won Saturday’s Busch Series race, giving him his first career “weekend sweep.”)
The Key Moments: After finding water in the oil tank of the Budweiser car on race morning, the team decided to change engines, which required then to start in last place, 43rd, instead of their original 13th place spot. Dale Jr. somehow managed to avoid severe damage during a huge 27-car crash on lap four, but the damage that was done caused the team to make multiple pit stops, often leaving pit lane at the last possible moment to avoid going one lap behind. Dale Jr. somehow avoided another multi-car accident on lap 89, but the yellow flag allowed the team to move into the top –10, where they remained for the rest of the afternoon. Once Dale Jr. took the lead for the first time on lap 107, he would take the lead a total of nine different times for 34 laps. The team saved their finest pit stop until their last on lap 160, when they decided to take fuel only, sending Dale Jr. back into battle for the final 28 laps of three-wide, hold-your-breathe-while-the-hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck stands up.
Immediately after the race, Dale Jr. departed for a three-day hunting trip.
Dale Jr’s Quotes: “This is a big deal. A great victory for my career. In the past, we’ve been the car to beat at this place, but today we weren’t the best car. We just didn’t have the car after the big crash, so we had to fight and gouge and kick for every spot today. It was hard, hard racing and a lot of wild things happening, so I’d say this one (the fourth in a row) is the sweetest of all. We had to earn this one today. There was a lot of passing and a lot of exciting racing.”
“All week, I never really thought we could do it (win four consecutive races at Talladega). I planned for the worst, and hoped for the best. It was hellacious racing, and we never gave up. Everybody on the team showed a lot of heart. This one wasn’t ours to lose like the ones in the past. You work your heart out… and you might get more than you expect.”
About the pass for the win: “I didn’t know a thing about it until I was in the van (being driven to the media center after victory lane ceremonies). I don’t think the yellow line had anything to do with the pass. I was on the apron in turn three to keep from crashing into Matt (Kenseth) and Jimmy (Johnson). “
About avoiding major damage in the 27-car crash: “We were at the back and I saw it all happening in front of me. I did not think I would have time to stop or slow down. I could not see a thing – just smoke and stuff flying. Maybe I’d see a flash of a car or a quarter-panel, and I was trying to guess where to go. I suppose I made some lucky guesses. I knew we could have hurt the car bad, but it really did minor damage to the nose, and then the guys taped and pop-riveted and hammered on that thing time and time again until we got it straightened out. It was never that great, but it was a good car when we needed it to be.”
Would your dad have approved of today’s win? “Hell yeah. Anytime I’m up here (post-victory media conference), he’d approve. I didn’t run over anybody, but even if I did, he’d be alright with it…”
Best Radio Conversations
For much of the day, Dale Jr’s chatter with his crew was static-ridden. At one stage, the team even switched to their back-up radio frequency.
Right after the major crash on lap four:
Dale Jr: “Oh yeah, I hit some stuff. I think I got into the back of the 30 (Jeff Green) car and maybe into the side of the 49 (Ken Schrader). There was some push and shove there once they started crashing…It was a pretty big mess there with all the oil… I need my windshield cleaned too. I can’t see outta this thing.”
After repairs, Dale Jr. launched into the top three in less than 10 laps, before being shuffled back to 19th.
Dale Jr: “Alright, here we go. We’re coming back. I’m gonna do it again (go towards the front).”
Best prediction of the weekend, during the final practice on Saturday morning.
Dale Jr: (as he let a string of approximately ten cars slide past): “Don’t worry guys. Our car’s good.”
Started: 13th (moved to 43rd after changing an engine Sunday morning)
Points Position: 2nd (moved up one position)
Money Won: $204,367
Laps Led: Nine times for 34 laps
Best Pit Stop: Lap 160 / Stop #17 of 17 / Fuel only / 5.95 seconds
Thanks to Jade for this Budweiser Race Report!