DEI Back On Track

A trip to the 1.5-mile track of Texas Motor Speedway produced successful results for both DEI Nextel Cup Series teams on Sunday – top-10 finishes.

Michael Waltrip finished sixth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. wasn’t far behind with his ninth-place finish. This was the first time both teams placed in the top-10 this season in the same race and each benefited in the overall points battle.

Waltrip qualified 21st in the No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet and picked up four positions on the first two laps. From there, it was a constant charge to the front with him cracking the top-five by lap 53.

At one point, he was in second place and looking to chase down the leaders. Several cautions kept bringing the cars down pit road. With some cars pitting and some not, Waltrip would move down some positions for the ensuing restarts.

Each time, Waltrip would head for the high side of the 24 degrees of banking and pick up more positions in his quest for victory. Even during the final run, he went from outside the top-10 to almost earning a top-five finish.

In the end, the blue NAPA Chevrolet was still chasing down fifth place, but ran out of laps to finish sixth.

"This was a great race for our team," Waltrip said. "We had a test down here a couple of weeks ago and it was very encouraging the way we ran. I thought I could win. So that was a great feeling. We were just a little tight in the middle, but we freed it up at the end."

"It's great for me. I was thinking when we were running second and really doing good that we were running well. But if you don't finish the deal off and finish well, people will forget how well you ran.

"So you've got to post the finishes and it was great to put one up today."

Their finish vaulted the No. 15 team from 30th in points to 24th, 451 points behind the leader. Crew Chief Tony Eury, Jr. said he kind of unnerved himself, at one point, during the race but was still somewhat pleased the race ended the way it did for the team.

"I got scared there at one point; over adjusted and made Michael too loose. I didn't really didn't go after some major adjustments that I should have when it became overcast. It's my fault that I didn't have the car the way he needed it 2/3 of the way through the race.

"There at the end it looked like we hit the setup right on again. But the leaders were gone and we had already lost the track position. We came home sixth and that's and that's a great day," Eury, Jr. said.

Earnhardt, Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet rolled off 11th for the initial green flag and also started a march forward. By the time the lap 50 mark, of 334, was posted, he was also in the top-five with his teammate.

He stayed among the top-10 for the first 80 laps; then struggled through the mid-section of the event before making a strong run into the top-five with less than 50 laps to go. A series of yellow flags slowed the field before the final pit stop for the Bud team on lap 298.

The final set of tires did not agree with the chassis as Earnhardt Jr. hung on to finish ninth.

"It's a frustrating way to end it," he said. "I thought we had a top-five car at the end, and we did. We were really getting stronger and stronger, and then we put on the last set of tires for the final 30-some laps and it just got too tight.

"That's so frustrating to work hard all day, work into a top-five car, then have a set of tires be off that much.

"Overall, I'm happy with the day - it's another good points day. This is a track where I can come in with a lot of confidence - a lot like Atlanta or Charlotte - where we expect to be good and I can drive with some confidence.

"I don't know if I've ever driven as hard in my life as I have in the last few weeks since Bristol. This team makes me want to drive hard. I want to do well for them.

"We're still not totally where we need to be as a team, but we're getting there. I stepped up my commitment to the team this week and Pete (Rondeau, crew chief) and the rest of the guys have stepped up as well. That's what it takes: the whole team."

When the race ended, he and the team had a solid finish that moved them from 16th to 15th in points.

**Courtesy Dale Earnhardt

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