Dale Jr. Wins at Phoenix
No. 8 Budweiser Team Scores Ninth Career Winston Cup Victory
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the final 51 laps of Sunday’s Checker 500k at Phoenix International Raceway, taking his second victory of the 2003 season. The victory strengthens his second-place pposition in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings with two races remaining. Dale Jr. led Jimmie Johnson across the finish line by .735 seconds, with Ryan Newman third. It is the ninth victory of Dale Jr’s Winston Cup career. Since joining the tour full-time in 2000, Dale Jr. and the Budweiser team have multiple victories each of their first four seasons. This is the second career victory on a one-mile oval, following a win at Dover in Sept., 2001. The team has now led 10 consecutive Winston Cup races, and have led a league-best 24 races this year. By leading three times for 87 laps, Dale Jr. has also led more than 1,000 laps for the second consecutive season.
The Key Moments: Dale Jr. started 11th, but wasted little time going three-wide to jump into the top-10 on the first lap. He zoomed into the top five by lap eight, and the top three by lap 15. The No. 8 car took the lead for one lap (lap 39) during pit stops, then took the lead again on lap 86, holding the top spot until the next round of pit stops on lap 120. The team opted to take four tires rather than two on their next two stops, which dropped them as low as tenth position on lap 214. However, the fresh tires and a wicked fast car allowed Dale Jr. to work his way through the pack, eventually re-taking the lead for good on lap 262.
Dale Jr. Quotes: “It’s awesome and overwhelming to win here. To come so far to the west coast to race, it feels like nothing short of a victory is satisfying. The travel and all of the work the crew puts in just to get here means it’s a long, long trip home if you finish second. We led a lot of laps here last year and ran out of fuel – miscalculated our fuel mileage – and we thought about that every day for the past year. This track is so much fun, and to win here is great. It shows how far our flat-track program has come since our rookie season. We passed a lotta cars today, and there was a lot of hard racing. If we didn’t run into most of the guys out there, it was sure close.
“I have fond memories of this place – we clinched a Busch Series championship here (in 1999). I have a lot of pictures from that day, and my dad was here to celebrate with us. So, I have fond memories of that. I think today is another pretty good accomplishment. From now on, we’ll come here expecting to do well.”
“I think the fans cheer for me whether I win or lose. I think they cheer for you because of who you and what you represent. I have a genuine fan base, and I think they’d stick with me whether I win or lose.
“It’s been a great season for us, and it’s like we’re more comfortable in our own skin. Every little step we make, every time we overcome the pressure it makes us a better team. The key for this team to win the championship next year is loyalty. We have a strong bond, and if we stay together and step it up year by year, we’ll be hard to beat.”
Best Radio Conversations
There was a major traffic jam on pit lane during the first series of pit stops on lap 39. Dale Jr. barely missed the No. 43 car and several crew members on his exit from the Bud pit box…
Ty Norris (spotter): “Man, that was disaster there… I mean, not for us, but the whole pit lane was jammed three- and four-wide….”
Dale Jr: “None of them boys got mashed did they?! That has got to be the scariest thing in the world to come out there like that… They oughta look at splitting the field somehow to come down pit lane like that… Maybe the top-20 get to pit on the first lap, and the rest on the next lap…”
On lap 151, a piece of paper became lodged on the nose of the Bud car…
Dale Jr: “There must be something on the grille… Keep a lookout for the nose.”
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): “Yeah, you have a little bit of paper on top of the grille – not bad, it’s just across the top…”
Dale Jr: “The temperatures are starting to go up…”
Five laps later…
Tony Jr: “I think ya sucked that thing off of there…”
Dale Jr: “Yeah, it went all the way up to 240 (degrees Fahrenheit) then went back down to 210… but I’ll bet my lap times were good. That little bit on the nose made it turn a lot better. So, now we know what we need to do on the next pit stop because it was turning darn good there. I knew when it came off because I went down into turn three and it almost didn’t turn! You know what you need to do…”
After racing side-by-side in a pack of eight cars for nearly five laps…
Dale Jr: That was fun racin’! I coulda gone three-wide there almost every lap but I’m not sure if they were paying that much attention!
Tony Jr: “Just watch out for the 29… he has some heavy fender damage.”
Dale Jr: “Yeah, he got run into the fence big-time. That was some side-by-side aggressive racing there.. some ACTION! Aggressive racing action!
Ty Norris: “And I’m sure it’s not over…”
As the race neared an end, a series of yellow flags slowed the field after Dale Jr. had taken the lead. As the race was ready to re-start on lap 275:
Tony Jr: “Do you want us to give you lap times or anything?”
Dale Jr: “No. I wanna concentrate. Don’t say anything unless I’m really kincking the guy in second place… then you can tell me how good I’m doin…”
During the next yellow-flag that fell less than 10-laps later…
Dale Jr: “C’mon now! Let’s get in the game! We’re trying to win a race here. Let’s talk about what we need to talk about!”
Ty Norris: “Uh.. well… we were told to be quiet, but I can tell ya nobody’s comin… no one’s moving up on ya.
Tony Jr: “Just keep doin what you’re doin. You’re doin great.”
Dale Jr: “Ya sure I got enough gas?!”
Tony Jr: “Yeah, I’m positive. You’re good to the finish.”
Finished: 1st (Ninth career Winston Cup victory)
Points: 2nd place
Laps Led: Three times for 87 laps
Best Pit Stop: Stop 4 of 4/ lap 213 / four tires & fuel / 13.57 seconds
After 34 races:
Top-3 Finishes: 10
Top-5 Finishes: 13
Top-10 Finishes: 21
Races Led: 24
Laps Led: 1046
Thanks to Jade Gurss for this Budweiser Race Report!