Dale Jr. Wins Talladega for Fifth Time, Takes Points Lead
Fifth Win of Season for No. 8 Bud Team
Talladega, AL - Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser race team won for the fifth time at Talladega Superspeedway in Sunday’s EA Sports 500. The victory is also a career-best fifth win of the season and sends Dale Jr. and the team into the lead for the 2004 Nextel Chase for Championship after three of ten races. Dale Jr. gained the maximum points with the win combined with leading the most laps (nine times for 78 laps). He leads Kurt Busch by 13 points and third-place Jeff Gordon by 61 points with seven race remaining this year. The five wins ties Dale Jr. with Jeff Gordon for the league lead in victories and extends his lead in money winnings for 2004, sending his total for the year to $6,123,029. This is the 14th career victory for Dale Jr. in 176 Cup starts.
Key Moments: Starting 10th, Dale Jr. lived up to his promise to NASCAR flagman Rodney Wise by taking the lead in only four laps. The Bud car raced among the top 10 for most of the first 100 circuits, merely taking it easy to become a player at the end. A quick two-tire pit stop on lap 144 put the No. 8 Chevy back in the lead for the seventh time. It set the stage for a spirited battle for the lead with Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch, as the three went door-to-door with the Budweiser Chevy, even drawing contact between Dale Jr. and Gordon on lap 155. Coupled with major drafting help from teammate Michael Waltrip, the Bud team used a two-tire pit stop on lap 178, but when a yellow flag fell while the No. 8 car was entering pit road. Dale Jr, was in 11th place at the restart on lap 184, and it took him only two laps to regain the lead for the final three circuits.
Dale Jr. Quotes: “Honestly, I can’t believe we’ve just won our fifth race. It’s awesome to win here. This is an awesome place. There’s still a long way to go in the Chase, so we’ll celebrate this and get ready for Kansas. I’m really excited about the points lead, but there’s a lot of racing left. We put a little distance between us and the fifth-place guy, so I guess we’re kind of narrowing it down a bit. It’s still hard to believe we can all go through this Chase without a mulligan. And I don’t know if we’re that good of team to not have to pull out a back-up (car) at least once.”
On going from 11th to 1st in the final five laps:
“I knew we had the car to get it done. It didn’t take long to get into fourth (after the restart), and then I got the right help and was able to hold ‘em off. I watched the last two laps in my mirror … saw all kinds of wrecks going on. It was crazy. There was a lot of crazy stuff going on out there today. Tony Jr. made a great call right at the last moment to throw on two tires during our final pit stop. It might’ve been the difference. We had a great car. It’s not as good as the one that’s sitting in Daytona, but it’s pretty close.”
On drafting help:
“I don’t know, everybody keeps asking how I get drafting partners, but every time I come here I feel like I got lesser friends. The high line was working today, and some people figured that out. It wasn’t like I had 12 friends out there. The high line was faster than the bottom, and we got pushed by people at the right time. The high and the middle lines were nice.”
Questioned about his post-race interview, which NASCAR is reviewing and could result in possible points penalty for uttering a mild obsenity:
“I’m pretty bummed out about that, because we’re running for the championship, and nobody wants to give away points. Being told in Victory Lane that I might get docked points really sucked the excitement right out of the win. I really don’t even remember saying it, but I reckon I did. I was excited, and when you’ve just won your fifth race of the season and just retaken the points lead in the Chase for the Championship, only to be told you could get penalized, it just squeezed the emotion out of the win. They are saying there is a precedent, because Johnny Sauter said a curse word and was fined. To me, that’s different. That was out of anger. What I said was out of jubilation. If they want the Matt Kenseth robot commercial to come to fruition, then that’s the way it’s heading. I just don’t think it’s a too big a deal to let a word slip out when you’re celebrating. It’s emotion.
Best Radio Chatter:
During the pace laps prior to the start of the race.
Dale Jr.: (to spotter Steve Hmiel): “Steve, one thing today: don’t leave me with any guesses out there. You can’t talk too much. If you’re not sure – tell me someone’s still there. I don’t want to be guessing out here today…”
Dale Jr. wasted no time going from tenth to first in four laps, keeping his promise to the NASCAR flagman.
Dale Jr. (after taking the lead): “What lap was that?”
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): “Lap four. You can give the flagman a big thumbs-up when you go by.”
Under the second caution on lap 61:
Dale Jr.: “There’s some crazy stuff going on out here … I’m having fun, though.”
Tony Jr.: “Yeah, you looked like you were having a hard time for awhile, but it still looked pretty fun.”
Dale Jr.: “Yep, I got a car that can do it. It can’t do it like the other car (referring to the winning car from the Daytona 500 that is now on display in Daytona USA), but it can do it … Let me know when it’s halfway (in the race). Any cars running for championship knocked out?”
Tony Jr.: “Nope, not yet.”
Dale Jr.: “OK, let me know when they do…. I’m just sitting back and lifting (the throttle) in traffic. I’ll get back up there. Don’t worry.”
Under the third caution on lap 125:
Dale Jr.: “How many laps left?”
Steve Hmiel (spotter): “Sixty. Six-zero.”
Dale Jr.: “I didn’t even know we’d reached halfway point yet.”
Hmiel: “Yeah, I didn’t say anything because you were pitting under green at halfway.”
Dale Jr.: “Damn, it’s time to get serious. I’ve just been riding around. Y’all keep me posted on laps. I don’t want to be asleep when the end of the race goes by. It’s time to quit (messing) around and get serious.”
During the final yellow flag of the day (lap 182) with Dale Jr. looking to restart in 11th place.
Dale Jr: “Who’s behind us?”
Hmiel: “The 41 (Casey Mears). He says he’s your friend and he’ll follow ya…”
Dale Jr: “OK, I’m going to the top around these guys.
Hmiel: “We hear ya Junebug. You got the 41 car, another Earnhardt (brother Kerry), the 01 (Joe Nemechek) and 20 (Tony Stewart) behind ya.”
Dale Jr: “Oh yeah, if that combo can’t do it, nobody can. How many laps will be left?”
Hmiel: “You’ll have five to go.”
Dale Jr.: (alarmed) Are you serious?!?
Tony Jr: “You did it at the start of the race (take the lead) why can’t we do it now?”
Dale Jr: “Alright…”
Tony Jr: “OK, grab the belts baby, let’s get it done.”
Dale Jr. Victory Stats:
--- Five victories in ten starts at Talladega.
--- He has finished first or second in the last seven Talladega events.
--- This is his eight consecutive top-10 finish and the ninth consecutive race he has led at Talladega.
--- In four ‘restrictor plate’ starts in 2004, Dale Jr. finished first (Daytona 500), second (Talladega Aaron’s 499), third (Pepsi 400 at Daytona) and first (EA Sports 500).
--- In his 14 career victories, seven have come at restrictor-plate tracks.
Started: 10th (17th top-10 start of season)
Finished: 1st (fifth victory of 2004)
Led: 9 times for 78 laps
Points: 1st (gained two spots)
Best Pit Stop: Stop one of five / Lap 20 / four tires and fuel / 12.83 seconds
Thanks to Jade Gurss and Mike Davis from fingerprint inc. for sending the race reports.