Talladega, AL - For the fourth time in five Busch races, Dale Earnhardt Jr finds victory lane.
Running on fumes, Earnhardt and his S2 team gambled on fuel at the Talladega International Speedway to claim his second Busch win of the 2003 season.
"As a driver, you don't ever want to hear the words, you need to conserve fuel. There's never been a class on how. We were not coming in for gas. We were in the lead and here to win", said Earnhardt.
Cutting it close, Earnhardt's Monte Carlo ran out of fuel just past the start finish line and needed to be pushed into victory lane.
"We ran out in turn one, right after we took the checkers. We had a good car all day long; we just didn't have enough gas if it went green. Noted the race winner, referring to a late race caution brought out when Chase Montgomery spun, allowing the team to save enough fuel to claim the victory.
The move of the race occurred in the pits with less than sixty laps remaining Earnhardt opted for fuel only, beating Joe Nemechek off pit road to take the lead.
Since winning his second Busch Championship in 1999 Earnhardt has competed in only five Busch events. Two for Richard Childress Racing, and three with his own S2 Motorsports team. The only blemish on his post Championship record was a thirty sixth-place finish at Charlotte in May of 2002, otherwise, he has only known victory.
The North Carolina native has chalked up two Daytona wins, a win last fall at Richmond, and the recent triumph at Talladega.
Finishing behind Earnhardt were Joe Nemechek, Shane Hmeil, Ron Hornaday, and Mike Bliss.
Joe Nemechek, the events pole sitter was poised to take the win if Earnhardt's fuel gamble went south.
"I thought I had something for him, but we ran out of time, I couldn't believe that caution came out and then he ran out of gas. If we had stayed green, he wouldn't have made it. Today he was not just good, he was lucky." Said Pole sitter Nemechek.
For the second consecutive year, the event was marred with an early race pile up, a super speedway phenomena known as "The Big One".
On lap nine of the 187 lap event sophomore Johnny Sauter blew a right rear tire coming off turn four, and the resulting backlash was a twenty car pile up, including the car driven by series points leader Todd Bodine.
"I just was going down the back straightaway and going into Turns 3 and 4 and I started feeling a vibration. The next thing I know I'm sideways and everybody's running into me. All I know is that when a tire goes down here it goes down in a hurry." Said Sauter, who was caught up in last year's melee.
Jamie McMurray, who finished sixth in the event did a masterful job avoiding contact during the incident as he stopped his Yellow Freight Dodge on the turn four exit. McMurray's fast reaction saved the race, and moved him to second in the overall points standings.
Leaving Alabama, Todd Bodine continues to hold the number one spot in the championship standings, followed by Jamie McMurray, Ron Hornaday, Shane Hmeil, and Jason Keller.
The series next heads to Nashville Super speedway for it's first stand-alone event, The Pepsi 300.
-by thomas chemris-