May 10, 2006
Junior Gets First Cup Win In Ten Months
"Yeah! Alright! We got our win," said Dale Earnhardt Jr. after his win Saturday night at Richmond Int'l Raceway. "It's great to be with this bunch of guys — we've been having a fun year and things just seem to be getting better. We've had some bad luck lately, but we knew the performance was going to be there."
Earnhardt took advantage of Kevin Harvick's mistake and drove to his first Nextel Cup victory since last July at Chicago.
The key moment for Earnhardt seemed to come on lap 289 of the 400-lap race. With Harvick leading, a caution came out and all the lead lap cars except Harvick pitted for fresh tires.
When racing resumed, Earnhardt began hounding Harvick for nearly 20 laps, running side-by-side for the lead until he backed off to avoid crashing into Harvick.
The momentary hesitation dropped Earnhardt's No. 8 Chevrolet back to fourth place on lap 325, and allowed rookie Denny Hamlin of nearby Chesterfield, VA to move into second, while Kyle Busch took third.
After cooling off his tires, Earnhardt picked off the other cars that were ahead of him, one by one, until he gained the lead for good on lap 356.
Hamlin, driving with a heavily bandaged right hand which had 19 stitches in it from "horseplay" with members of his team earlier in the week finished second.
"This is by far the biggest race of my career," said Hamlin. "It's awesome. I can't tell you how great I feel."
Third-place driver Kevin Harvick, who had won Friday night's Busch race, dominated the race and led 272 laps, but was disappointed with his finish and would not talk with the news media after the race.
Asked why he didn't pit when everybody else did with about 112 laps remaining, he said, "We were short on fuel and hoping for another caution."
Asked if his car went away late, he said, "Just got tight."
Then he left.
If it weren't for bad luck, Greg Biffle wouldn't be having any luck at all.
During Saturday night's race at Richmond, Biffle pitted under green for gas. While in the pit area, a caution came out, causing him to lose a lap. Later in the race, he had a tire go down. But despite the adversity, Biffle regarded his third-place finish as a victory.
"I won! I finally won! It feels like a win. I could be out there getting the trophy. Congratulations to Dale Jr. That's awesome. We had a great racecar and just, unfortunately, stopped when we felt like it was safe and a lot of guys stayed out a lot longer than we thought and caught us a lap down," said Biffle. "We just fought and fought to get back. I'm just pretty excited to finish in the top five."
Despite his team's seemingly endless downward spiral, he remains upbeat.
"I really don't need any encouragement," said Biffle. "I'm ready to go, ready to win races. I'm going to go to Darlington. I'm going to win. I feel like we can. Whatever happened last week is last week."
The driver of the No. 16 National Guard Ford came up 36 points short of winning last year's Nextel Cup championship and many observers thought his Roush Racing team would be in the thick of the hunt this year.
Not so. At least not after 10 races.
Going into Richmond, Biffle had finished 31st or worse in three of his past four races, and in the other one at Phoenix he finished 15th after running out of gas late in a race in which he led more than anyone else.
At this same period in 2005, he was fourth in points, with two wins.
After Richmond, he is 20th in points, but Biffle said last Wednesday he still thinks his team is as good as it was last year when he finished second in the Nextel Cup standings.