Dale Jr. and Bud Team Back in Victory Lane at Richmond
Dale Jr. Wins for Third Time in Richmond Spring Race
Richmond, VA - Even numbered years at Richmond International Raceway seem to be the ticket for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team as they won for the third time at the .75-mile oval. This is the first victory of the season for the Bud team, extending a streak of seven straight years with a Nextel Cup victory. Dale Jr. has won this race in 2000, 2004 and now 2006, matching his three victories at Richmond in the Busch Series. This is the ninth time in 14 career starts Dale Jr. has finished in the top-10 here, and his seventh top-five tally. The win brings Dale Jr. up two positions to sixth the NASCAR Nextel Cup point standings after 10 events. Rookie Denny Hamlin was second in his first Cup race at his hometown track followed by Kevin Harvick in third place. The victory is the 17th career win for Dale Jr. and the Bud team. He has scored multiple Cup victories at four tracks (Talladega, Daytona, Richmond and Phoenix).
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 10th, Dale Jr. dropped to 12th for much of the first 20 laps of the race, until a yellow flag brought the No. 8 machine to pit lane. With the adjustments made, Dale Jr. restarted in the 28th position on lap 24, but surgically sliced his way forward through the field, regaining a top-10 position on lap 57, then into the top-five less than 20 laps later. Once into the top-five, the team remained among the leaders for the rest of the night, running second for much of the evening to the car of Kevin Harvick. The key moment seemed to come on lap 289, when the lead lap cars other than Harvick pitted for fresh tires. Dale Jr. hounded Harvick for nearly 20 laps, running side-by-side for the lead until Dale Jr. backed off slightly to avoid crashing into Harvick. The momentary hesitation dropped the Bud car back to fourth place on lap 325, but he picked off spots methodically before taking the lead for good on lap 356. Despite several late yellow flags that bunched the field, Dale Jr. remained the fastest car on track once he took the lead, and he crossed the line in first place for the first time since his victory at Chicagoland Speedway last July.
Dale Jr. Quotes: (We will file a separate report with the full transcript of post-race quotes following Dale Jr's media conference at the race track.)
“Yeah! Alright! We got our win. It's great to be with this bunch of guys - we've been having a fun year and things just seem to be getting better. We've had some bad luck lately, but we knew the performance was going to be there. I want to thank all of the people at DEI that can't be here tonight - that are at home watching on TV - because I owe this win to them. The people at the shop made the difference by preparing a car that was really fast the moment we went on the track (this weekend). The engine was great, the pit crew was great , and Tony (crew chief Eury) Jr. made some adjustments on the car that made it better as the night went on. Once I was in the lead, it felt like old times. We were haulin' and pulling away from those guys at the end.
"It feels great especially with the company I'm with. Tony (Eury) Jr. did a good job calling the race. My team did great on the pit stops. I was real proud of the race car. It says a lot about the guys back at the shop putting the car together and calling the set-up plate and everything. I really didn't have to work real hard. The car was real easy to tune. I'm just real proud of the job everybody did at DEI. The motor was really good. I'm real proud of the engine. We made some great strides there. Those guys should be really happy with all the hard work and late nights. We're having fun and finally winning some races. This is a great deal for our team."
Where does this put you to be a contender again for the championship?
"I think we're there. We keep taking our shots and winning a race here and there. We're pretty competitive and I'm real proud of the team I got. I've got a great group of guys.
"I really enjoy coming to the race track with this group. I sort of learned a lot last year with the group I was with to teach me to really appreciate good people. It's kind of carried over into this season. Everything is really working great. I couldn't ask for any position on this team and in the shop to be better. I'm just really happy with the effort everybody has given me. I try to go out there and drive it as hard as I can every lap. I hope the fans enjoyed the race. It was a fun race for me. I'm just glad to be back in Victory Lane. It just really feels good."
On racing Denny Hamlin for the win:
"Well I can appreciate Denny racing in front of his home crowd. A little part of me wanted to see him get the win here but I didn't want to be the guy he had to pass. Denny's a real great friend. He's a good, smart racer. He's going to win a lot of races. He's going to have a successful career. I was just real glad to be able to race him. You want to race against your friends and be with your friends. It's kind of a gift at this level to be able to do that. I had a lot of fun tonight."
Best Radio Chatter:
Not all of the radio chatter is exclusively about the No. 8 car…
Dale Jr: (after Matt Kenseth in the No. 17 car had trouble) “The 17 broke something. He oiled the track all over - he needs to get down out of the groove. He's still drippin' oil all over the place. I've got it all over my windshield. We'll need to take care of that when we stop if we can spare a tear-off.”
Tony Eury Jr (crew chief - reporting the details a few laps later): “The 17 car lost a brake rotor and it punctured his oil tank like we had at Bristol that time.”
Dale Jr: (in admiring tones) “He was driving without brakes and a hole in the oil tank?! He's tough ain't he?!”
Tony Jr: “Yeah! He was doin' it!”
Dale Jr. avoided the spinning car of Tony Raines by coming to a complete stop on lap 260 while running in second place.
Steve Hmiel: (spotter): “Go high! Go high! Go high!”
Dale Jr: (after coming to a complete stop): “Did I lose any spots?!”
Tony Jr.: “No. You're still second…”
Dale Jr.: “Damn. We were really comin'.”
Tony Jr: “Yeah, you were looking real good there on that long run.”
Running second behind Kevin Harvick for many laps, Dale Jr. moved side-by-side with the No. 29 car for five laps of exciting racing for the lead until Lap 325, when Dale Jr. suddenly backed off to keep from crashing into Harvick, and dropped to fourth place.
Dale Jr: “Damn it! I'm sorry! Tell Kevin, I'm sorry. I was tryin' to keep off him.”
Hmiel: “10-4. I told 'em. We're cool.”
Dale Jr: “I almost wrecked him in turn two!”
Hmiel: “It's OK, we're good. I told 'em.”
Under a yellow flag period on lap 346, Dale Jr, explained further to the Bud crew about his decision to back off.
Dale Jr.: “I had to back off to keep from crashing him. I was tight in the center of the corner, but I was loose off the corner, and I was so free I just didn't think I could get around him. I backed off to try again, and I didn't realize those other guys (Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton) had caught up with us. I was just going to drop behind Kevin to try to set him up, and all of a sudden the 5 car (Busch) was right there and I had to back out.
The same yellow flag also presented an opportunity for the Bud pit crew to keep Dale Jr. at or near the front. The succeeded, as Dale Jr. returned to the track in second, and then passed Kyle Busch for the lead less than 10 laps later.
Tony Eury Jr: “OK. Let's get it done guys. This is it! This is what we're paid for!”
Dale Jr. then asked Tony Jr. to turn his cheerleading efforts toward the driver…
Dale Jr: “If you want me up the wheel, you're gonna have to count 'em (the laps) down!”
Tony Jr: “I'll try not to talk over Steve (Hmiel), but we'll do it. Go get 'em.”
Led: 47 laps
Points: 6th place (+2 positions)
Best Pit Stop: Stop 5 of 6 / Lap 289 / 12.82 seconds / 4 tires and fuel
Thanks to Jade Gurss and Mike Davis from fingerprint inc. for sending the race reports.