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Homestead: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report

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Homestead: Dale Earnhardt Jr race report
Nov 17, 2002, 6:10 AM

Busch wins battle, Stewart the war; No. 8 Budweiser team dominates before engine woes. Kurt Busch continued his late-season success, winning Sunday's season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But the biggest winner on the day was Tony ...

Busch wins battle, Stewart the war; No. 8 Budweiser team dominates before engine woes.

Kurt Busch continued his late-season success, winning Sunday's season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But the biggest winner on the day was Tony Stewart, who clinched his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship with an 18th-place finish. Busch won his fourth race of 2002, crossing the finish line ahead of Joe Nemechek and Jeff Burton. In what looked like a replay of last week's race at Phoenix, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team dominated early portions of the race, leading for 46 laps before a broken valve spring dropped the red car to only seven cylinders of power. Even with a damaged powerplant for the final two-thirds of the race, Dale Jr. still had a car that handled magically in the corners, and was able to hang onto the lead lap to the finish, coming home 21st.

The Key Moments:`Dale Jr. and the Bud team started on the outside of the front row, their best-ever qualifying effort at the relatively flat 1.5-mile oval. Much like last week at Phoenix with the same chassis, it took Dale Jr. very little time to climb into first place, passing the eventual winner Busch to take the lead on lap 11. All seemed well with the Bud car, as Dale Jr. was able take the lead for a second time on lap 63, and then challenge for the point after the next set of pit stops on lap 94. While in second place on lap 104, Dale Jr. reported the first sign of trouble with the engine. "The engine starts to cut out at the end of the straights, guys," was his first radio transmission about the trouble, and then he slowly fell back through the field as the problem became worse and worse. For the final 150 laps of the race, Dale Jr. had the slowest car down the straights, but the fastest through the corners, which managed to add some spice to the struggle to remain on the lead lap. A quick post-race teardown confirmed what the team had diagnosed earlier: a broken valve spring had rendered one of the eight cylinders worthless.

Dale Jr's Quotes:`"That's about the coolest 'bad' day we ever had. It's hard to be disappointed. We had such a great car and that's just so rare for one of the DEI engines to have a problem. It must be some sorta record for staying on the lead lap with only seven cylinders, even though I hear that my grandpa Ralph (Earnhardt) once won a big race with only seven good cylinders. The car was so good that I could haul-ass through the corners and then I'd just try to hang on when we got to the straights..."

"We were really great early on. I think we were among the three best cars, easily. It handled great, and we were starting to dial it in when the engine problem started. At first, it would just misfire at the end of the straightaways, but it got worse, and then it was pretty clear we had lost a cylinder. Everybody else knew we were a wounded duck, so I really had to be careful on the re-starts. Those (guys) were like bees to honey trying to get a run on me. I had to swat 'em away! If I was even close to someone at the end of the straight, there was no way they could get around me in the corners. It was an awesome car, and I'm glad we can end the year with that feeling. We didn't finish well, but we kicked some butt while we were up front. Now, I gotta get outta here, I'm goin' to Jamaica..."

Best Radio Conversations
Perhaps because of his trip to Jamaica tomorrow, or the fact the season was ending, but Dale Jr. was extremely chatty on the radio all afternoon. His commentary encompassed a wide range of topics...

Dale Jr. talking about another driver that crashed his DEI teammate Michael Waltrip, who happens to be the tallest and most physically imposing driver.

"Ohhh... that ain't a man I'd wanna be spinning out!"

Dale Jr. teasing his crew - especially his cousin Tony Eury Jr., who sits on top of the pit box.

"Hey - ya look good up there... Next year, y'all get five-gallon buckets to sit on. We'll have some fast-ass stops cuz you won't be sitting on the couch up there."

Dale Jr. daydreaming about his car owner role next season in the Busch Series...

"I can't wait for (the race at) Las Vegas next year. Boy! It's gonna be a blast! I'll be sitting up there all comfy and making all the calls!

Dale Jr. about his unorthodox line through the turns that sent him across the apron in each corner...

"Ya know, this track is crazy. It may be more dangerous than New Hampshire. Being down on the apron may not be the fastest way around but it's safer and it's fun. It's like you're driving along and then 'WHOA! I'm on the apron!' Ya know, if I could get down there onto the access road (inside the track), I could shave a few 10ths off my lap times... Just turn hard left, ya know..."

Dale Jr. talking with Tony Eury Jr. about a caution period that seemed to last forever...

Dale Jr:`"Hey - could somebody get me a pepperoni pizza?"

Tony Eury Jr:`"Nah... sorry. I don't see any here..."

Dale Jr: "Awwwwww man! I'd get one for you!"

Tony Jr: "Nope, I really don't see one around, and we done checked!"

Dale Jr.: "Well, ya better hurry and get me one before the stores close..."

Tony Jr: "Hey man, you're doin' really good. We're still 15th..."

Dale Jr: "Hell yeah. You don't understand how great this thing is in the corners... (getting wistful) We had a good run while it lasted. We can't blame (head engine builder Richie) Gilmore...we twisted the heck outta the engine. We were really quick today guys, they knew we were here...Great job all weekend..."

Today's Stats
Started: ``` ``` 2nd
Finished:```` ``` 21st
Points Position: ``` 11th (no change)
Money Won:`````` $80,825
Laps Led:```` ``` Twice for 46 laps
Best Pit Stop: ``` ``` Lap 55 / Stop #1 of 10 / 4 tires, Fuel / 13.29 seconds

The Celebrities that don't get enough credit or attention: The DEI Budweiser crew (in no particular order): Tony Eury, Tony Eury Jr., Danny Earnhardt, Kevin Pennell, Ira-Jo Hussey, Bill Snyder, Jeff Clark, David Lippard, "B" Hoover, Ty Norris, Sonny McCurdy, Tracy Manion, Dan Stillman, Shawn Nettleton, Brandon Blake, Jon Neumeyer, Scott Daniels, Dean Middlemiss, Tom Ryan and Brian Cram.`Great job guys. Have a Bud. You deserve it.

-dei/budweiser-

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