Dale Jr. Wins The Budweiser Shootout!
Budweiser Team, Earnhardt Jr. Grabs Budweiser Shootout Victory
Daytona Beach, FL - The 25th annual running of the Budweiser Shootout will go into the NASCAR history books as the first Shootout to be run under the lights in prime time and the first to see a Budweiser-sponsored car to pull into Victory Lane. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team won the wild race after 70-laps of rough-and-tumble short-track style racing at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. Dale Jr. started last in the 19-car all-star field, but took only 16 laps to grab the lead for the first time. After a lap-20 mandatory yellow flag, Dale Jr. bounced in and out of the lead, finally taking the top position to stay on lap 66 (of 70). Jeff Gordon finished second and Matt Kenseth finished third. This is the second all-star victory of Dale Jr’s Winston Cup career (he won The Winston in 2000). The team set a new event record for the deepest starting position for a winning team and takes home the winner’s purse of $205,000. This is Dale Jr’s third win at Daytona, following previous victories in the Pepsi 400 (July, 2001) and last season’s Busch Series 300 in February.
The Key Moments: Dale Jr. and the Bud team started 19th in the all-star field (the starting line-up was determined in a random draw Thursday afternoon), but it took the red Bud car only 16 laps before taking the lead for the first time. Dale Jr. led four times for 13 laps. He has now led at least nine laps in each of his three career starts in the Budweiser Shootout. He finished second last year in the race, which marks the first event of the 2003 Winston Cup season. The racing was furious all evening, as cars barreled around the superspeedway two- and three-wide for much of the seventy lap event. The Budweiser team pitted for fuel and two tires on lap 51, sending Dale Jr. back on the track in sixth position behind cars that chose only to take fuel during their stop. The final 19 laps saw Dale Jr. move as far back as seventh, up to third, then back fourth place with five laps to go. From there, it was series of daring moves in traffic that sent Dale Jr. into the lead for the final time on lap 66.
Dale Jr’s Quotes: “That was some really hard drivin’ the last few laps. I owe a lot to the team and to my spotter (Ty Norris) because it was wild all night. I mean, they were goin’ three-wide from the first lap. At first, I just kind of held back because when it’s three-wide in front of you, it’s like a wall. You just can’t get through there. But, I finally decided I’d get in there and mix it up with ‘em.
“When you come out of the pits with 19 laps to go, you just throw everything out and just try your best to get to the front. There are things that happen out there that only the drivers understand. It’s something we can’t describe and it’s something that no one else can understand, no matter how much you study the races. We all just know when to bump and when to push… sometimes you know when and how to do it, but I can’t explain it. There’s just a time when it’s tasteful and times when it’s not tasteful.
“It’s so cool to win the Budweiser Shootout. They’ve been a great sponsor for me and for Dale Earnhardt Inc. They have been with me all the way and to win their event makes me really happy. It wasn’t easy at all. This is my first (Winston Cup) win in February, and it’s something I really wanted to do, especially for Teresa (Earnhardt, team owner) and the Eurys. I think we’re a real contender to win the Daytona 500 (next Sunday) and were a team that can make a serious run for the championship.
“There was a lotta beatin’ and bangin’ from the start. We were all bouncing around and slamming into each other and I guess we were fast enough to hold ‘em off at the end. Our car surprised the hell outta me. I mean, I know that Tony (Eury, crew chief) and Tony Jr (Eury, car chief) build a great car, but with the new (Chevrolet Monte Carlo) body style this year, I was nervous and skeptical that we wouldn’t be as good as we were last year. We have a great team and talented fab (fabrication) shop. They’re great at what they do, and we just seemed to pick up just where we left off last year.
“I’m not comfortable being the favorite. I like bein’ the surprise, ya know. Sneak up on people. I guess it’s been that way all my life. Being the favorite (for the Shootout and the Daytona 500) is not a good feeling for me. I feel like I don’t wanna do anything to jinx myself, ya know? Before the race, I was out there by the car and I was really excited. I had cabin fever because it’s a new season and I was ready to go. Then, somebody came up and said ‘you’re the favorite, I’m betting on you.’ That’s a lotta pressure on me! I think we have the team that builds and prepares the best cars, so I SHOULD win, and if I don’t then it’s me not doing my job. I think our car should be the favorite, but not the driver.”
Best Radio Conversations
As the race began, Dale Jr. spent the first couple of laps at the back of the pack. He made sure that the team didn’t worry too much about his position.
Dale Jr.: “Y’all just be patient. We got a good car here but I can’t go anywhere when they’re three-wide right in front of me…”
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): “10-4… we know what you’re dealin’ with…”
As he took the lead for the first time, Dale Jr. tried to maneuver to help his long-time friend Matt Kenseth.
Dale Jr: “I’m just tryin’ to help Matt here. I’m trying to get him clear (in front) of the 97 (the car of Kurt Busch).”
Ty Norris (spotter): “I know Matt’s your buddy, but that 97 car has all the horses behind him helping him out. He’s gotta run.”
Dale Jr: “I’m alright. The top (groove) is better...”
As Dale Jr. took the lead for the final time after a series of moves that had the entire Bud pit holding their collective breath, spotter Ty Norris cheered on his driver…
Norris: “That’s mastery! You can do this…C’mon!”
Points Position: The Budweiser Shootout is a non-points all-star race
Money Won: $205,000
Laps Led: 4 times for 13 laps
Best Pit Stop: Lap 51/ Stop #2 of 2 / 2 tires, Fuel / 8.6 seconds
Thanks to Jade for this Budweiser Race Report!