DALE EARNHARDT JR. TAKES POINTS LEAD
WITH SECOND-PLACE FINISH AT FONTANA
FONTANA, Calif. (March 24, 2013) – Behind the wheel of his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS, Dale Earnhardt Jr. avoided a late-race accident between the leaders to collect a second-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, Round 5 of the 36-race 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Earnhardt, Jr. and his No. 88 Chevy SS team are off to a fast start as the schedule swings into full gear. The team has already collected five top-10 finishes in the first five races; the only team to accomplish that feat this year. Earnhardt, Jr. also is now the series point leader with a 12-point advantage over his closest competitor.
Kurt Busch, No. 78 Furniture Row/Serta Chevrolet SS, collected his second consecutive top-five finish bringing home a fifth-place effort at the 400-mile race. The run moved Busch to 13th in the standings, which is a three-position gain.
Richard Childress Racing’s Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards/CertainTeed Chevrolet SS collected another solid top 10 finish by crossing the checkers in eighth. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS who brought home a ninth-place finish, followed him. Ryan Newman, No. 39 Wix Filters Chevrolet SS, recorded his third top-10 finished of the season by taking the checkered flag in the 10th spot.
Kyle Busch (Toyota) scored the victory; Joey Logano (Ford) was third, and Carl Edwards (Ford) finished fourth to complete the top-five.
The series takes a break next weekend and returns to action in two weeks at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, April 7th.
DRIVER POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED SECOND
THE MODERATOR: We have our runner‑up finisher Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet. Can you just talk about that last lap there and what happened?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I wasn't racing up there, so I couldn't really get a good view of it, but I was running around the bottom of the corner, and I knew they were going to ‑‑ they were slowing up and battling real hard, so I was just trying to get what I could get. I felt like on the back straightaway Kyle had the best shot at winning the race because those two guys were slowing down running so hard. Just lucky we were able to get by on the inside there. I got turned by Harvick one time when he had a flat tire back in '01 or '02. Man, turned into a wall there, and I didn't want to have that happen again today because that's what I thought was going to happen to me. So I was a little ‑‑ that was the world I was in at that moment. I really wasn't worried about those guys too much and how they were wrecking and all. I was just glad to get through and get a good run.
We had a good car all day, and sort of just got off sequence and all screwed up on tire strategy there at the end with all the cautions and guys coming for four and two, and we were able to take advantage of that on that last caution, get four tires, and starting on the inside was terrible. I would lose five, six spots down there trying to get going on the inside, and finally that last restart we started 18th but we were on the outside and we were ninth by the time we come back around for the first lap under green. Just really important to get that outside restart, and we weren't getting it there near the end, so we were just going backwards.
Just happy we were able to finish. I thought the car was good enough to finish in the top 5, so I'm glad we got a good finish up there.
Q. Can you just talk about what a team effort it took from where you got knocked down to the back? You guys had the tire changes; you came to fight for where you are, now you're the points leader.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, we had a little problem on pit road on one of our stops and lost a lot of positions. But we've always ‑‑ we just stick together, and everybody was just kind of ‑‑ patted each other on the back and we was going to get another chance to redeem ourselves on pit road. We had a good car. On that next restart we drove back up to 10th before the next caution, so I felt like we were back up in position to run well and everything was fine. We got a good pit stop on the next caution and put that mistake behind us.
You know, then the race sort of got weird. I'm not sure exactly ‑‑ when we would take two tires, our car drove really bad. It just didn't like that old left rear on there, and it would ‑‑ we'd just get really, really loose. So that was giving me some problems. And we were fading there at the end of the race, but we got an opportunity to fix it when we got that late caution.
But yeah, we just stick together. We got ‑‑ we were pretty good at closing races, something I never really was good at for years, and now we're doing it as good as anybody. Just riding the wave. Just real happy with how things are going for our team.
Q. A lot has been said this weekend that the track hasn't been resurfaced or redone in a while. Some people are calling it character like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. What's your take?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think it's great. Do everybody a favor, whoever owns this place, and pave the back straightaway. If you pave the back straightaway, there's some real bad bumps, we all watched it on TV in the Nationwide race and I'm sure you saw it today. It's just going down the back straightaway. It probably doesn't cost much to pave the two lanes that we race in, and that would really cure any complaints that I got. I think the corners are perfect. I wouldn't pave anything or change anything about the turns. This place has got ‑‑ this is the age of asphalt that I think tracks strive for. This is what places like Michigan and Phoenix look forward to, you know, when they get a good 10, 15 years on their asphalt. This is really right in the ballpark, right in everybody's wheelhouse. I think everybody that runs in the Cup garage really likes the surface. It's just real bumpy down the back straightaway for some reason, and it doesn't have to be, and I think they can fix that with a couple lanes of asphalt on that outside toward the wall, and like I said, the corners, man, you couldn't ask for a better racetrack.
KURT BUSCH, NO. 78 FURNITURE ROW/SERTA CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED FIFTH
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our third place finisher, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Serta Chevrolet. Good run for you out there, Kurt. Great finish. Talk about that race.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it was awesome with Todd Berrier's pit strategy to get us back up to the front. The way the race played out for us at the end, I was looking at the bumper of the 16 car going down the back straightaway with a run, and he was right on the 99 and I was able to pass both Biffle and Edwards on the top side as well as dodge the wrecking 22 and 11. And right now they've got us scored as third. We'll see where they post things here at the end.
But just real ecstatic. I mean, I was just telling everybody, this is what it's all about. Persevering, digging hard, and bringing it right back up to the front when it counts, and so you can race 400 miles and be leading every lap like Kyle was, and I had a chance to pass him for the lead on that final restart, and I took it.
Normally I'd have followed him and pushed him and drafted with him and tried to break away from the field. But I went to his outside, and it was a move that held him up, and it took his momentum away, gave me a shot for clean air, and up on the high side, and just a little too tight. The car just was a little tight on that top side, couldn't quite get the power down and couldn't get in front of him and Logano to seal the deal. But they were fast, and that was my one shot to win and I took it, and I'm glad the 18 got back to victory lane.
It's an amazing race, how the low groove comes in, even the apron of 3 and 4, the middle, the high side. We were calling it lane 5 all the way up by the wall. That's the Harvick lane.
It was great watching everybody race and putting on a good show, and I think the cars performed well here. For our Furniture Row Chevy SS, another top 5, this is what it's all about, just keep plugging away and surprising people.
Q. Kurt, obviously you're driving for a different team and different car than your brother Kyle. Nevertheless are you exchanging technical information with each other?
KURT BUSCH: No, no information is ever exchanged as far as team setup notes or any privacy type material. But what we do talk about is tracks and trends with the groove and the racing line, like the braking point at Watkins Glen or any short track where there's a bump, just general terms. We've always been tight that way in communication, but we made a rule, or at least I did since I got into Cup Series a few years before him, that our information is ours and yours is yours.
Q. Can you just talk about how much your team has worked to try to get to this point, being away in Denver, it's like even though you guys call yourself the 4 Childress team, there's still been a lot of changes made over the last few months to make this a contender.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, Joe Garone, the general manager, he's the most hands‑on GM I've ever met, more so than Penske Racing, Roush Racing, and the way that he operates, he's in charge of all departments. And he stays with his thumb on top of it. So Joe Garone deserves a lot of credit. Barney Visser has supplied us with the funds to do so. We're teamed up with Childress, that gives us motors, it gives us chassis, but then it's up to the crew guys to find little things every week when we're bolting cars together, and one of our main guys that won't ever get credit, Cole Pearn, he's our lead engineer. He's probably the smartest guy that's applying numbers to the car. Him and Todd Berrier work side by side. Todd likes the mechanical side, Cole likes the engineering side.
Q. What kind of instructions was Rick Carelli giving you in that last part of the fracas at the very end there?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I saw all the safety vehicles. We slowed down to about a 5 mile per hour pace and he said come down pit road. I guess I was supposed to go down to Turn 1 and turn into pit road.
Q. How about during the last five, ten laps when things were kind of winding down?
KURT BUSCH: Carelli is awesome. He's a racer himself; he's been Southwest Tour Champion, Winston West winner, Truck Series. He was a legend on the West Coast, and to have him as my spotter, it's an amazing feeling to have somebody you respect, somebody that you looked up to as a legend helping you, telling you, hey, you're a legend. I'm like, no, I'm just Kurt driving around in circles. And just the chemistry between us is awesome. I've never had a racer as much as he is be the spotter.
Q. So basically what was he saying when all that was going on up front there at the last?
KURT BUSCH: We were so busy with our 16 and 99 and then he's just like, watch out for the cars. I mean, he knows that it's hard to predict when people are wrecking which way they're going to go. But we were worried about our initial bubble around our car.
Q. For those of us that were sitting here either watching on TV or trying to watch on the track, can you describe what it looked like from your window when that threesome between your brother and Hamlin and Logano was going on? It just looked like mayhem.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I'm trying to draw up the cutest analogy to describe all this. You know, when the Kentucky Derby is coming down the stretch, you've got guys that were front runners all day and then you've got strong closers, which front runners would have been Kyle and Logano. The closers today would have been guys with tires such as Hamlin, Edwards. And when you have the clash of your pace such as Logano is going to be fast overall, where Hamlin is going to be fast in the corners with fresh tires, it's just chaos, and you hope that when you clear somebody that your momentum will allow you to draft with them and that you're not stuck side by side drafting and slowing yourselves down and waiting for the guy behind you to bonsai in there. It's a free‑for‑all. It's like here's a quick run again; it's like you see a shoot‑around NBA game and you've got everybody shooting basketballs at the same hoop, and all the balls are heading towards the hoop and some make it in and some bounce even though they were going to make it. It's just crazy. There are just cars everywhere and you go for it. You can race 400 miles here and it comes down to the final restart every time.
More blog entries from The Auto Racing Journal
(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)
Blog entries from The Dog Blog
More blog entries by Tom Gillispie
Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie