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NASCAR WCUP: Dominant Day for Dale Jr. at Dover Downs

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
September 25, 2001

Dale Jr. and No. 8 Bud Team Win Patriotic MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team brewed the competition Sunday, leading 193 of the 400 laps of the MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway and taking an emotional victory. The race was the first Winston Cup event following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the United States. A heart-tugging pre-race ceremony included more than 140,000 race fans waving American flags. To commemorate the victims of the attack, Dale Jr. drove a victory lap holding aloft a large American flag, and he also donated $75,000 to the relief effort (see details below). The red Budweiser car had been fast all weekend, qualifying third, and then dominated much of the race.

The Key Moment: Dale Jr. launched into the lead for the first time on lap three and never fell further than eighth place for the remaining laps as the team put together their second dominating win of the 2001season. Earnhardt Jr. led most of the first half of the race, running easily among the top three positions until a slow pit stop dropped him to eighth place with 140 laps to go. From there, he methodically worked his way into third place on lap 329. He remained there until the leader Ricky Rudd spun out on lap 345. After the team’s final pit stop, they restarted in third place behind Dale Jarrett and Jerry Nadeau, but it took Dale Jr. only 12 laps to take the race lead that he would never again relinquish. His lead of three seconds was wiped out by a yellow flag on lap 388, but he was able to pull away on the final re-start and take the victory by a margin of 1.576 seconds.

Dale Jr’s Quotes: “I knew we were gonna be good, but I didn’t know we’d be THAT good. Before the race, Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd told me that if I ran like I did yesterday (in the final practice), I could walk away with it, but I never felt like we had it in our hands until I saw the checkered flag. We were really good early on, but in the middle stages we kind of struggled. I mean, we were still a top-three car, but we were just kind of chillin,’ keeping the leader in sight so we could make a run at the end.

“We had that bad pit stop, and fell to eighth, and I thought ‘well… there goes the race…’ but we fought back and then we had the fastest car the last 100 laps or so. I think Rudd’s spin (on lap 345) cost him the race. We may have been able to catch him, but I don’t think we could have passed him.

“Once we got the lead there with 40-some to go, I just tried to get as far ahead as I could. I was worried when that last yellow flag came out (with 12 laps to go). You don’t know how many times I have lost races on deals like that, but we got a good restart and held ‘em off. I learned some things from Andy Pilgrim and the guys on the Corvette team that I raced with (at the 24 Hours of Daytona in February).They taught me some things on restarts – like how to short-shift without spinning the tires. So, even though I lost a little ground in first gear, by the time we were at top speed I had great momentum and I could get a great first lap on every restart.”

About the emotions and patriotism of the day: “This feels different than any of our other wins. I mean, we love winning, but it felt odd to celebrate. I watched the Formula One guys last week in Europe, and when Juan Montoya won, they didn’t spray the champagne. My dad told me never to do any more burnouts after we won the Winston last year because it hurts the engine, so as I was coming around to head into pit lane, I thought about the big American flag we had in our pit area, and I asked them to bring it to me and I did a lap for the fans.

“It was neat to see the fan’s reaction… I mean we’ve all been sad the past couple of weeks, and it was neat to see the NASCAR fans show their spirit and their patriotism just like the baseball fans or football fans have done. It does make me proud that I’m American, and I feel honored that I was the one to win on a day like today. I mean, it didn’t matter who won, it was healing to be here and it was special to be together and feel like the NASCAR family was together for the country. The fans presented me -- and all of us drivers – with some real inspiration out there.”

About donating to help the children impacted by the recent tragedies: “My sister (Kelley) and I wanted to do something. We talked about it, and we decided we’d donate some money for the children. I mean, you sit on your couch and watch and you feel helpless. We wanted to do what we could to help."

About meeting Cal Ripken Jr: “He is just cool. Just the coolest guy in the place, ya know. Whether he wants to be or not, he’s a great role model. A great athlete to look up to. He does his job and then he goes home to his kids and his family and I think he’s someone we can all appreciate.”

Text provided by Jade Gurss

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.