Budweiser Team Wins at Atlanta
Dale Jr. improves to third in Nextel Cup point standings with second victory of 2004
Hampton, GA - Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser race team finally did what it had been threatening to do for quite some time – win at Atlanta. Dale Jr. led 55 laps, including the final 16, to hold off Jeremy Mayfield and win Sunday’s Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a place he’d come so close to conquering before. Dale Jr. took the lead from Mayfield on lap 310 of 325 and then raced to a three-second cushion when the checkered flag waved. The win was Dale Jr.’s 11th career victory, and it was his fifth at a non-restrictor plate track. It also marked his sixth consecutive top-five finish here at AMS. Dale Jr. joins Matt Kenseth as the only two-time winners this year, and he improves four spots in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings to third (90 points behind leader Kenseth). Kasey Kahne finished third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and pole sitter Ryan Newman.
The Key Moments: Starting seventh, Dale Jr. and the Bud team paced itself through a lengthy green-flag run that lasted 125 laps. The Bud Chevy wasn’t far off the mark, but it needed continuous adjustments to stay on the lead lap and make a charge to the front. Two big pit stops proved essential in the cause, the first coming on lap 151 when the Bud crew churned out a 12.78-second pit stop and helped its driver move from ninth to fourth. The second was on lap 302 – just 23 circuits shy of the end – when the Bud crew changed four tires and added fuel in 12.66 seconds. The quick stop set the stage for Dale Jr.’s race-winning pass, which came seven laps after exiting the pits in fourth. He quickly passed Johnson for third, Kahne for second, and then took Mayfield on the low side in turn three. He then ran away from the pack at the end to claim his 11th career victory in his 151st start.
Dale Jr. Quotes: “We worked all weekend on the car, and it ran pretty good today. When the race started it was ok. I was kind of struggling in 13th, and came close to going a lap down. We made some adjustments, but I told (car chief) Tony Eury Jr. to just creep up on it, don’t go too crazy (on making adjustments). We dialed the car in better and better. I just give credit to the team. We had great pit stops all day. I don’t want to talk bad about Tony Jr., but his batting average hasn’t always been that high as far as his adjustments during the race, but he was on top of it today.”
On what it means to win after a humbling 35th-place finish at Las Vegas last week:
“All I know is that it wasn’t too long ago that a showing like that would’ve done us in. Either I would’ve got fed up and quit and parked it, or me and Tony Jr. would’ve ensued into a hellacious cussing match. It would’ve been nasty. I knew the first lap (at Vegas) I was driving a ticking time bomb. That thing was going to be awful all day. But this Budweiser team never gives up. Two years ago, maybe even last year, we would’ve self-destructed. We probably wouldn’t have come out of that for some time. I would have raced Atlanta Monday morning if I could have, because I wanted to get as far from Vegas as I could. It’s hard to go home and face your friends and your team after a race like that. I was just hoping Atlanta wouldn’t be another disaster. I was getting a little frustrated early in the race, because we are a top-five team here and there we were riding in 13th and almost going a lap down. Just goes to show you never give up, and never give up on your team.
On finally getting a win at Atlanta:
“This track has been on my want-list for a long time. I’ve wanted to win here pretty bad. I’d seen my daddy come in here and win so many times. It really means a lot to win here. It’s great to put your name on the list to win The Winston and the Daytona 500, but this was a personal victory for me today.”
Best Radio Conversations:
A long green-flag run at the beginning kept radio conversation minimal, but Dale Jr. made up for lost time when the first caution came out on lap 125:
Dale Jr.: “That was a long green-flag run there.”
Stevie Reeves (spotter): “Yeah, about 120 laps.”
Dale Jr. (referring to long run): “How’d y’all like you’re pizza?”
Tony Jr. (car chief): “It was good.”
The Bud team’s fourth pit stop was made in a blistering 12.78 seconds, which helped the red No. 8 car improve five positions:
Tony Jr. (following the stop): “That’s what I’m talking about, boys!”
Dale Jr.: “Yeah, that was quick. When I pulled in there I didn’t think I’d have to pull around the 12 (Ryan Newman, whose pit stall was adjacent to the Bud team’s stall). That was almost too good!”
Running in the top five, Dale Jr. stuck to his game plan by driving the high groove around Atlanta Motor Speedway:
Reeves: “The 6 (Mark Martin) has a run on ya on the inside.”
Dale Jr.: “I know he’s gotta run on me. He’s running the bottom (groove).”
Reeves: “I’m just telling you in case you want to go to the bottom.”
Dale Jr.: “I don’t wanna go to the bottom. It’s just kinda aggravating, because I’m trying to pass the 12 (Newman).”
As Dale Jr. swept into fourth place, he suddenly had the leader in his sights for the first time:
Dale Jr.: “Oh lookie here!”
After taking the checkers for his 11th career win:
Dale Jr.: “Waaaahhooooooo! What a weekend! That was awesome!
Tony Sr. (crew chief): “Hard work pays off, don’t it boys!”
Points: 3rd place (improved four spots)
Best Pit Stop: Stop 7 of 7 / lap 302 / four tires & fuel / 12.66 seconds
Thanks to Jade Gurss and Mike Davis from fingerprint inc. for the race reports.