Budweiser Team Wins Sixth Race Of Season At Phoenix
Dale Jr. closes in on points lead with two races to go.
Avondale, AZ - Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team won their sixth race of the season and second in a row at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, leading 118 of 315 laps to win the Checker Auto Parts 500k. Ryan Newman finished second and Jeff Gordon third. Dale Jr.’s winning pass came on lap 303 when he overtook the top spot from Gordon. He then withstood one caution, one red-flag period (the second of the day) and a green-white-checkered finish that prolonged the event three extra laps to earn the victory. It is Dale Jr.’s 15th career win in his 181st career start (moving him into a tie with Ernie Irvan for 40th on NASCAR’s all-time win list). He is also only the third driver to earn consecutive victories at PIR (Davey Allison and Jeff Burton are the others). More importantly, Dale Jr. picked up two positions in the championship standings and now sits in third place, 47 points behind leader Kurt Busch and six points behind second-place Jeff Gordon with two races to go.
Key Moments: Using the same car and set-up that earned him victory here last year, Dale Jr. needed only 60 laps to go from 14th to first and begin what was a dominating day at this one-mile track. Variations of pit strategy eventually knocked him out of the lead, as he took four tires on lap 107 when many others took two. But pit strategy eventually played into the Bud team’s favor, as its service call on lap 227 gave Dale Jr. enough fuel to the end, and its decision not to pit on lap 281 ultimately put him in position to win. Having already brilliantly climbed from 11th to third, Dale Jr. passed for second on lap 297 and then took the lead on lap 304 despite struggling with lapped traffic and persistent raindrops. Casey Mears’ blown engine on lap 306 added to the drama, as it took a 10-minute red-flag period to clean the track. Once cleared, Dale Jr. led the field to a green-white-checkered finish, to which he opened an eight-car-length advantage and won easily over Newman by 1.35 seconds.
Dale Jr. Quotes: “This is a great place to race, and we appreciate doing this for all the fans. We’ve just got to do this the rest of the year so we can gain on Kurt (Busch) because we know he’s going to run strong. We’ve got to get this title for these fans here!”
What is it about Phoenix the Bud team has figured out?
“It’s that long trip out here and back. If you don’t bring home the trophy, it’s a long ride home. When we come to the west coast we want to showcase our abilities and our talents out here. It’s just great to win here. The team did a great job. We had a great race car all day. I was really surprised at how good a race car it really was. There at the end, to get by those guys was effortless. The car was just awesome. I just had to make sure I didn’t get run into or spun out or do anything foolish like I did last week. I had a great car and we won the race and I’m real proud of my team. I can’t say enough about this effort.”
When you were back there in 11th position, how concerned were you?
“Really concerned, because it seemed like we drove from 14th starting position right up to the lead. But once I got back there again, it wasn’t quite as good and I wasn’t able to pass people. The cautions kept coming out one right after another. My car was really good after about three or four laps. Tony Sr. made a couple of adjustments, and we had some awesome pit stops. I’m really proud of my team. I’m really lucky to race and make a living with people I enjoy being with.”
On the third in the Chase for the Championship:
“We haven’t dominated the remaining tracks, Darlington and Homestead, but with the team I’ve got now, I feel like we can go in there and have the best weekends we’ve ever had at those tracks. We’ll be in Homestead all week (testing), getting ready for that race. I knew we had the car to win today. I just didn’t want to make another mistake like I did last week. We’ve still got a lot to gain. These guys aren’t going to be easy to beat.”
Best Radio Chatter:
Radio chatter was kept to a minimum until a steady drizzle brought out the caution on lap 106 and then a 23-minute red flag. A pit stop under this caution knocked Junior from first to fifth.
Dale Jr.: “I was just taking it easy up front. I can race ‘em if you want me to.”
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): “Just keep doing what you were doing.”
Dale Jr.: “This (thing) took off there at the start!”
Tony Jr.: “10-4, she was humpin’!”
Dale Jr.: “It’s nice when you can jump up there and take a nice lead and not have to work so hard. Right before the rain started when I was out front, I was just cruising.”
Steve Hmiel (spotter): “Bring her down pit road (because of the red flag).”
Dale Jr.: “Might be a big spell (of rain) coming. Alrighty, we’ll get a little break here. That’s cool.”
Steve: “Tony Jr., I’m gonna shut my radio off.”
Dale Jr.: “Later, Steve.”
During the fourth caution on lap 127:
Dale Jr.: “Who wrecked? Anyone interesting?
Steve: “The 42 spun out, and several others spun trying to miss him. Looks like nobody has any major damage.” (Several laps later) Well June, it looks like the 97 (Busch) and 42 (McMurray) are coming back in. They ran into each other on pit road.”
Dale Jr.: “Yeahhhhh! They’re tearin’ ‘em up!”
Steve: “Not enough.”
With Dale Jr. in third when the ninth caution flew, a decision had to be made on whether to pit for tires with just a few laps remaining:
Tony Jr.: “Staying out, Junebug.”
Dale Jr.: “WHAT!? We’re gonna get our butts kicked.”
Tony Jr.: “You can pit if the 24 pits, but you’re pretty fast. You’ve got 30 (laps) to go, and you’ll be taking the green with 25. You’re easily three-tenths of a second faster than everybody else, and it still took you 40 laps to go from 11th to third. Those guys with new tires will be in 10th, at the very least, and will be caught up in all that traffic. We’ll be in good shape here.”
During the second red-flag of the day, just a handful of laps from the end, Driver #8 began to get impatient:
Dale Jr.: “I’ve had enough racing for today. I’m ready to get it over with.”
Steve: “I’m going to get in trouble. My momma makes me come in when the street lamps come on.”
Dale Jr. (to nobody in particular): “Come on! I’m ready to go! It ain’t even raining hard enough to stop the race. Let’s go and get this thing over with. Just two laps.”
After taking the checkers for his 15th career victory:
Dale Jr.: “Whooo! I love winning, especially here. I don’t know why. Just awesome!
Finished: 1st (sixth win of season and 15th of Dale Jr.’s career)
Led: 3 times for 118 laps
Points: 3rd (-47 behind Kurt Busch)
Best Pit Stop: Stop 1 of 4 / Lap 77 / four tires and fuel / 12.54 seconds
Thanks to Jade Gurss and Mike Davis from fingerprint inc. for sending the race reports.