National Guard Car Finishes 9th, U.S. Army Car 31st in Daytona 500
February 19, 2008
By Tim Hipps
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Army News Service, Feb. 19, 2008) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove the AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet to ninth place and Mark Martin finished 31st in the U.S. Army Chevrolet in the 50th running of the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Feb. 17 at Daytona International Speedway.
"It was a good Speedweeks," said Earnhardt, who won the Budweiser Shootout and the first Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500. "We obviously didn't have enough car there most of the day.
"I would have liked to finish better tonight, obviously. I think we had a top-five car all day. It is frustrating, but at the end of that race, anything is going to happen and guys get shuffled around. You just kind of take what you can get without wrecking."
Ryan Newman prevailed in the late-race shuffle and won the race with a last-lap pass of third-place finisher Tony Stewart and runner-up Kurt Busch, who pushed Newman around the final lap.
"I can't really remember the last few laps," Earnhardt said. "I was just kind of stuck. The guys on the outside made great moves to get there. Ryan and those guys did exactly what they needed to do to win. They made some good choices at the end and that is the difference between where we finished and where they finished.
"But we are happy with ninth - just take that, try and build on it, and have a good rest of the season."
Martin was running among the top 10 for much of the first 80 laps, but on Lap 84, both left-side tires went flat after the No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet ran over some debris on the race track. The incident not only dropped Martin into 42nd place, he also went a lap down, lost touch with the draft and was in serious jeopardy of falling two laps behind.
"That was a blow because we really had a good car," Martin said. "Until the tires went down everything was going according to plan."
A dry spell of cautions didn't help Martin's cause, but he eventually got back on the lead lap with the Lucky Dog free pass on Lap 162.
As the 500-mile race was winding down, Martin moved to as high as 17th place. He appeared to be headed for a top-10 finish until Dave Blaney's No. 22 Toyota Camry got bumped into Martin's path with 11 laps remaining.
"We battled back from almost dead last and were just getting into the thick of things before we got caught up in somebody else's mess," Martin said.
Blaney said the wreck wasn't his fault.
"We had a fast enough car to run right at the front," Blaney said. "We just got in a big pile. I'm not sure which car took me out. I still thing the No. 42 (driven by Juan Pablo Montoya) just slammed me side-to-side and flattened my right front. I'm not sure why. You see a lot of cars out of the draft right there, and unforunately, we were one of them."
Following the mishap, Martin drove the No. 8 down pit road where the Army crew made quick repairs to the heavily damaged right-side. Martin returned to the track and was able to drive the crippled race car to the checkered flag.
Aca,!A"Sometimes you just can't overcome that kind of stuff,Aca,!A? Martin said. Aca,!A"But the guys hung in there and we fought back, just like our Soldiers do every day to protect our freedom. This U.S. Army Team really showed me a lot of grit today.Aca,!A?