Dale Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser Team Win the Daytona 500!
Junior: “This is the greatest day of my life”
Daytona Beach, FL - Daytona International Speedway’s victory lane became a stable for Clydesdales on Sunday, as Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the No. 8 Budweiser team won the Great American Race, the Daytona 500. Sporting a special red-and-white “Born-On dating” paint scheme on his Bud car, Dale Jr. made the winning pass with 19 laps to go and held off repeated challenges from Tony Stewart in the waning circuits to earn his 10th career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory. Dale Jr. now has eight career wins here in 26 starts, but this marks his first Daytona 500 victory. He and his father, Dale Earnhardt, are only the third father/son duo to have their names on the Harley J. Earl Trophy. Stewart finished second followed by Scott Wimmer, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. This marks the first time in his NEXTEL Cup career that Dale Jr. has led the point standings.
President George W. Bush was part of an estimated crowd of 190,000 people who attended today’s race. President Bush phoned Dale Jr. after the race, to which the Bud driver said, “Thank you very much, Sir. That was the most exciting race of my life. I was glad to see ya today.” After telling the President, “Aiiight… take it easy,” Junior joked with the media saying, “Bring that cell phone back here so I can write down his phone number.”
The Key Moments: Junior battled among the top five throughout the first 100 laps, using quick pit stops and drafting help from Stewart to stay in the lead draft. Being in the front proved pivotal, as a huge crash on lap 70 eliminated many cars, including Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI) teammate Michael Waltrip. With its car in second place, the Bud Crew peeled off a blistering 13.2-second pit stop on lap 169 of 200, keeping Dale Jr. in contention. Dale Jr. then made a sweeping pass of Stewart 12 laps later, putting the No. 8 Chevy in the lead for good. After taking the checkered flag, Dale Jr. sent his car sliding through the Daytona infield grass, much like his father did six years ago when winning his first Daytona 500.
Dale Jr. Quotes: “This is awesome. This is the greatest race, this is the greatest day of my life, and I can’t really describe it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tell this story to anybody and get it right. This is just a great feeling.”
ON THE WORK OF HIS SPOTTER, STEVIE REEVES:
“My spotter was awesome all day. We’ve been hearing all these people talk about how we’re not going to be able to work together. I mean, a spotter is a very important key to a team. We changed spotters, and everybody was pretty concerned about that. I’m glad me and Stevie work so well together. I know one time he came over the radio screaming and hollering, but it was because he was screaming at the spotter next to him to get his driver to give me a push, and he didn’t know he was keying the mic the whole time. It excited the hell out of me. I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ He was up there screaming, ‘Go with him, go with him!’ And I was like, wow, this is intense. He wants it just as bad as we want it, and that pumped my ass right up. I think that’s when I turned it on right then.”
ON WHETHER HE WAS CONCERNED ABOUT MISFORTUNES ON THE FINAL LAP HAVING SEEN HIS FATHER LOSE THE DAYTONA 500 SO MANY TIMES AT THE END OF THE RACE: “Nah, I wasn’t really thinking none of that at all. Me and Tony (Stewart) already came down here and went through a helluva heartbreak losing the 24 Hour race the way we did (two weeks ago). You couldn’t beat that sore hard enough to make it hurt anymore. I’ve been through it enough. I don’t think anyone can understand it, but if a tire would’ve blown out on the last lap, it wouldn’t have bothered me one bit. We would’ve just had to come back again and again and again.”
ON THE FINAL 15 LAPS: “That was the longest 15 laps of my life. The car was awesome all week. I knew I had one of the few cars that could’ve made the pass I made on Tony. He was strong all day. We helped each other all day, and it was cool that it came down to us racing for the win. He’s a good friend of mine, and I can’t think of many people I’d rather race for a win in the Daytona 500 than Tony. I got a good run on him, went high, he went up to block me, so I swept back down across his bumper and got enough momentum to get a nose out in front of him. I saw he had some drafting help coming, but I just had a really good run and was able to pass him. Once I got out in front, it was just a matter of holding him off. I saw he was trying to use lapped traffic or whatever he could get to get by me. But this Budweiser Chevrolet was haulin’ today. (Crew chief) Tony Eury Sr., Tony (Eury) Jr., (car chief) and all the guys on the team have worked so hard at winning the Daytona 500. I’m kinda glad to say I put the ongoing strive to win the Daytona 500 to rest.”
Best Radio Conversations:
The race’s second yellow flag flew on lap 33 when the Bud team had just made a green-flag pit stop while in second place. The caution caught Junior in 24th position, which was as far back as he would be all day.
Dale Jr.: Man, that sucks! We had ‘em all strung out. What happened to that car? He blow a tire?”
Tony Eury Jr. (car chief): “Nah, he just lost it. (pause) They just picked up the 29 as the leader, so they’ll probably let you guys come around. We’ll stay out. I would bring you in to top off, but there’s so many idiots coming in and out I don’t wanna take the chance.”
Dale Jr.: “(Tony) Junior, your radio is the worst radio. Do you ever want to get a new radio? I complain about it 38 weeks a year, but you keep bringing it back. I don’t know what it is with Junior’s radio. I can hear pit guys fine, I can hear the spotter fine, but I can never hear Junior. I don’t know what it is. Can somebody help him out? It’s like he’s got a piece of metal in his head.”
The “Big One” came on lap 66 while Dale Jr. was in third place – well in front of the wreck.
Stevie Reeves: “Big crash behind you. This one looks pretty big. There’s cars everywhere.”
Tony Jr.: “Looks like Michael (Waltrip) is in it. I’ll let ya know as soon as I found out something.”
Dale Jr.: “Copy.”
Tony Jr.: “He hasn’t said anything yet (on the radio) but that’s because everything probably came unhooked.”
Tony Jr.: (after about a few minutes of watching the progress of safety workers on the monitor): “He’s out, Junebug. He’s so big it was probably just hard to get him out.”
Dale Jr.: Yeah, that’ll be another good story for Mikey one day! (pause) You know what that just did? That just removed some of the cars that were competitive. That changes our strategy, ya know?
The extended caution period provided more time to discuss the accident, which left his teammate Michael Waltrip trapped inside his upside-down racecar.
Dale Jr.: “Michael didn’t even have a scratch?”
Tony Jr.: “Nah, he got out wavin’.”
Dale Jr.: “I wonder what kind of trap door they’ll invent next.”
Tony Jr.: “He’s big. It’s gotta be hard for him to get out.”
Dale Jr.: “Hell yeah he’s a big SOB. I still ain’t real sure how he gets in a car when it’s on all fours.”
In working with other spotters, Stevie Reeves got excited in trying to convince other drivers to help Dale Jr. At one point on lap 152, he didn’t know he had his microphone keyed:
Stevie: “Inside, inside, GO WITH HIM! GO WITH HIM! Clear. (pause) Sorry I yelled that in your ear there, man.”
Dale Jr.: Nah, man, that was awesome!”
Points: 1st place (185)
Laps Led: 5 times for 59 laps
Best Pit Stop: Stop 6 of 6 / lap 169 / four tires & fuel / 13.20 seconds
Thanks to Jade Gurss and Mike Davis from fingerprint inc. for the race reports.