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Dale Earnhardt's day at texas


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Junior finishes race in 5 car after Busch wrecks, leaves

By Josh Pate, NASCAR.COM

April 16, 2007

10:40 AM EDT

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Let the rumors begin.

 

At perhaps the most crucial crossroads of his driving career in which he's negotiating partial ownership of the team his father created, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got a taste of what it's like to drive for the competition on Sunday when he finished the final nine laps in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

 

junior.8.193.jpg

Lap-by-Lap: Texas

Dale Earnhardt led 96 laps Sunday but any chance he had at winning went up in a puff of smoke. But he would finish the race, only not in his car.

 

Earnhardt had the dominant car midway through the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, getting around Jeff Gordon on Lap 153 for the lead, a position he held three different times for 96 laps.

 

When Kurt Busch moved by Earnhardt to take the point on Lap 249, it was the first time anyone passed the 8 car for the lead while on the racetrack.

 

And Kyle Busch had a front-row seat for it all, less than a second behind the front two cars battling it out.

 

"How's that Miller Lite taste? Tastes great," Kyle Busch yelled as his brother moved around Earnhardt to take the lead in a front-row battle of the beer sponsors.

 

It was the highest the younger Busch had gotten as he babied his car, picked off positions and made minimal changes to the machine that was brand new to him. He'd wrecked his backup in practice on Saturday and was forced to start from the rear of the field.

 

Third place for the hard-charging Busch, however, was as high as he would get.

 

Four laps after celebrating his brother's move to take the point, Busch's radio went wild again when his spotter tried to lead the driver through a blur of smoke that Tony Stewart produced while slipping around on the frontstretch -- his second spin of the race -- just after being lapped.

 

"Trying to wreck in front of you. Watch it, watch it!" Busch's spotter said on Lap 253.

 

But it was no good. Earnhardt slowed his No. 8 Chevrolet because of the smoke from Stewart's wreck, but Busch didn't get his bow tie slowed before he plowed into Earnhardt, sending the 8 car spinning across the start/finish line.

 

The damage to Busch's car appeared much worse than that of Earnhardt's as he pulled directly to the garage.

 

"Don't even worry about it, load it up," Busch radioed to his team. But nobody listened. Busch took his car to the garage, got out and disappeared while the crew went to work immediately on what looked to be an unfixable car.

 

camo_car.jpg Meanwhile, Earnhardt's crew worked on his machine during the caution and kept their driver on the lead lap before finally retiring to the garage on Lap 301.

 

"We struggled a little bit after the wreck," Earnhardt said once he climbed from his car. "We thought we could get the car back out there and run good, but there were some issues with the handling and finally the motor broke.

 

"Normally when you tear a car up and spin around, you can throw the motor backward and do some damage there but that's not what happened. We just haven't had any luck and one of these days it'll be our day and we'll be able to celebrate."

 

Eight laps later, the No. 5 crew had put all the pieces together to get the car back on track. All but one.

 

"We ain't got no driver," a crewman said over the radio.

 

Team members from the No. 5 searched for Busch but never found him. That's when jackman Rick Pigeon approached his buddy Earnhardt and asked if he would finish the race in the 5 car. Earnhardt asked crew chief Tony Eury Jr. about the situation. Eury gave the go-ahead, and Earnhardt got in the car to finish the final nine laps of the race.

 

"Pig [Pigeon] is my buddy, and I have a couple other friends on this team," Earnhardt said. "They asked me to do it so I wasn't going to say no."

 

When Earnhardt crossed the finish line, he thanked his newly adopted crew.

 

"I could tell that it was a real nice car before we had the accident," Earnhardt said. "I really appreciate them asking me. I was honored. It means a lot to me."

 

By finishing the race in Busch's car, Earnhardt was able to pass Jimmie Johnson in the finishing order as the 5 car completed two more laps than the 48. The 37th-place finish gave Busch three more points in the race's final tally, although Busch fell two positions to seventh in the standings.

 

The upside for Earnhardt is that he wound up one spot ahead of Busch in the finishing order. The downside: he dropped seven spots in the standings from 11th to 18th, the farthest-falling driver.

 

"It was a miscommunication between the team and Kyle," said Busch's crew chief, Alan Gustafson. "He thought they weren't going to go back out so he left. There were a few laps left, they knew they could gain a position and gain three valuable points.

 

"So they asked Dale Jr. to fill in. Junior didn't hesitate and agreed and it was a very sportsmanlike gesture and it says a lot about Dale Jr. and the kind of person he is."

 

But finishes and points weren't on Earnhardt's mind when he decided to help out a team that had worked hard to get their car in running condition.

 

By the time he pulled into the garage after the race, an audience had gathered at the 5 car's garage waiting on its newly christened part-time driver at Texas.

 

"It don't matter, I was glad to do it," Earnhardt said to eager onlookers, noting that he didn't hesitate to help out the Hendrick team. But he ended any thought that this may be a precursor for future changes. "Are you crazy?"

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