After smoking the Shootout field, Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates in a suitable fashion at Daytona International Speedway. Image Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Steps Out, And Steps Up!
(UPDATED With YouTube Video)
In the very first professional stock car race of the season, the race that acts as the opening act to a gathering of racing enthusiast on the East coast of Florida, Daytona Speed Weeks 2008, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins pulling away from rival Tony Stewart.
The race known as the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway, does not count in the 2008 points championship, allows the top NASCAR teams to tune up for the infamous season opening Daytona 500 (50th year) to be staged this next weekend, February 17, 2008.
Even though the Budweiser Shootout does not award points, it carries a sizeable purse and bragging rights. The bragging rights for Dale Earnhardt Jr. become even greater given the fact that this is the first race he has competed in after leaving the team his late father and stepmother (Teresa Earnhardt) formed and the team where he had his greatest successes – Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI). Dale left when he could not secure an agreement with DEI to participate in the management of the future of the team to a greater level.
“Junior” won the race with the drafting help of teammate Jimmie Johnson … after the race's fourth and final caution, set up the green-and-white-checkered finish.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a new look in victory lane after winning the Budweiser Shootout all-star race on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. Image Credit: The Kansas City Star/Production Affiliate
This excerpted from The Boston Globe –
Earnhardt wins with help from new friends
By Michael Vega - Globe Staff / February 10, 2008
Looking to make a favorable first impression with his new Hendrick Motorsports team, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won last night's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway, kicking off Speedweeks 2008 in rousing fashion by holding off runner-up Tony Stewart in a green-and-white-checkered finish.
"What a race. Good job, guys," Earnhardt hollered to his crew over the radio after he crossed the finish line to record his second Shootout triumph. "What a great racecar. This might be a [Daytona] 500 winner and you might not know it."
Car owner Rick Hendrick chimed in, "What a way to start the deal, baby."
Earnhardt made headlines in May when he announced his decision to defect from Dale Earnhardt Inc.,
But he made an even bigger splash in June when he joined forces with the sport's most dominant team.
Last night, that union paid huge dividends for Earnhardt, who received timely drafting help from his Hendrick teammates, most notably Jimmie Johnson in the final three laps.
"I had a blast," said Earnhardt, who ended a 62-race drought that dated to his victory at Richmond two years ago. "The last few laps, I got some great help from my teammates, but I wouldn't have won the race without Jimmie pushing me. So thanks to him and [crew chief Chad Knaus] for working so hard to get [Johnson's] backup ready."
Nine laps into the race, Earnhardt powered his way to the front with a bold inside move on the backstretch and went on to lead the remaining 11 laps before pitting for a scheduled 10-minute intermission before the resumption of racing in a final 50-lap segment.
When racing resumed on Lap 28, Toyota driver Dave Blaney, who delivered his car manufacturer its first Cup pole victory last July at New Hampshire, went to the front. Blaney's lead was short-lived when Earnhardt moved back in front on Lap 35.
Earnhardt proceeded to joust with Stewart for the lead, but the driver of the No. 88 car got some timely help in building a commanding lead from Hendrick teammates Gordon and Mears. (Mears's car failed postrace inspection for being too low, the Associated Press reported, and NASCAR planned to look more closely at the car today.)
Kurt Busch's brilliant save of his spinning car in Turn 3 brought out the race's fourth and final caution, setting up a green-and-white-checkered finish. After racing Stewart side-by-side, Earnhardt, with Johnson's draft support, took the lead on Lap 69.
"It's hard to beat Dale Jr.," Stewart said. "I mean, he's one of the best restrictor-plate drivers that's ever been, so he learned a lot from his dad. I'm not sure he's not better than his dad now, in all honesty. To run with him and the Hendrick guys, I thought we fought a good fight tonight."
2008 Budweiser Shootout - Finish Part 1
2008 Budweiser Shootout - Finish Part 2
... notes from The EDJE