Bud Team Wins to Capture First Win in '05
Dale Jr. leads final 11 laps en route to victory
Joliet, IL - After equaling his season-best finish of third last weekend at Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr. followed suit with a victory Sunday afternoon, winning the USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Having gone virtually unnoticed all weekend (25th in qualifying, 34th after second practice, and 21st in Happy Hour), the #8 Budweiser team found itself in the mix when Earnhardt took his first and only lead 11 laps from the finish and held off the day’s dominator, Matt Kenseth, to win. It is Dale Jr.’s 16th career victory and his first win in 2005. It continues a string of six consecutive seasons with at least one win, and Chicagoland Speedway becomes the ninth different venue Dale Jr. has conquered, this after posting a previous best-finish of 10th at the 1.5-mile track. Kenseth, who led 176 of 267 laps, finished second and Jimmie Johnson third. The win moves Dale Jr. up three spots in the point standings to 13th. He is now just 91 points out of the 400-point window for Chase eligibility, and 115 points out of the top-10.
Key Moments: Having mingled in the top-13 all day, the Budweiser team became a legitimate threat to win after the right adjustments to a tight race car and quick work on pit road put Junior in third with 47 laps to go. Until then, Junior’s quick ascent into the top-10 from the 25th starting position had stalled, as the “aero tight” condition he was battling made it difficult to pass on the 1.5-mile oval. But a 12.6-second pit stop under the ninth caution catapulted Junior from seventh to third, and a gutsy two-tire stop under the 10th caution put him in second on a restart with 19 to go. From there Junior went to work on leader Scott Wimmer, making a pass on the backstretch 11 laps from the finish. He then held off an antsy Brian Vickers and the hard-charging Matt Kenseth in the final circuits.
Dale Jr. Quotes: I’m pretty excited to win that race. We started out with a pretty decent race car. We weren’t real fast at practice, but on that last run at practice, we were pretty good. When the race started, I was passing people, and I knew we were a little better than I thought. As the day went out, we eased further and further ahead. It seemed like a really long race – really, really hot. At the end, we were just happy to be in the top five. We obviously didn’t have the best car. Matt Kenseth had the best car. But the caution came out, and I asked Steve (Hmiel) ‘What do ya wanna do? I know a lot of guys are gonna take two tires. If you put me in front with two tires, maybe I can hold them off and maybe we’ll pull away from them a little bit.’ He agreed, and we did it. It was hard to get by Scott Wimmer. When I finally did, I overdrove it a bit, and almost ruined it for us. Finally got by him, and then Matt came charging up. I felt like if I could just drive it as hard as I could drive it, that’s all I could do, so that’s what I did.”
“I’m just so happy for this team. They’ve been taking so much abuse all season, and they are as good – if not better – than any of these teams in the garage. We’ve gone through so much this year, but it’s been a learning experience, and a growing experience, and it makes this even sweeter, to be completely honest. I really don’t know what to say – it’s just awesome.”
Best Radio Chatter:
Dale Jr. had climbed to third but slipped to fourth when the 10th caution flew on lap 243:
Dale Jr.: “Aight, what we gon’ do?”
Steve Hmiel (crew chief): “We got too many laps on our tires not to pit.”
Dale Jr.: “OK, well get me a couple spots if you can.”
Hmiel: “OK, we’re going to make no adjustments, OK June?
Dale Jr.: “Some people will take two, so we can take two and be the first car. They may have a hard time getting by me.”
Hmiel: “I’m thinking really seriously about taking just rights, June… Left sides have been looking good all day, right Jimmy Bender (tire specialist)?
Hmiel: “Just rights, June, just rights.”
Dale Jr.: “10-4.”
Under the 11th and final caution, Dale Jr. was in second place behind Scott Wimmer, who despite driving on old tires, was difficult to pass:
Dale Jr.: “I wanna pass this guy.”
Hmiel: “I’ve seen you do it before, so I figure you’ll figure something out. You definitely don’t want to hit him like Mike Bliss hit that 24. Man, he cleaned his clock.”
Dale Jr.: “Oooh, look at here, I’m second!”
Hmiel: “Heck yeah!”
After taking the checkers for his first win of the season:
Dale Jr.: “WHOOOOOOOHOOOOO! We just won! Can you believe it! We won!”
Finished: 1st (16th career victory / first win in 2005)
Led: 11 laps
Best Pit Stop: Stop 6 of 7 / four tires and fuel in 12.68 seconds / lap 216
Thanks to Jade Gurss and Mike Davis from fingerprint inc. for sending the race reports.