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Keeping Pace

The drought is over! Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins at Michigan

Pulling away from defending series champion Tony Stewart at the end of the final 60-lap green-flag run, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway by a dominating 5.393 seconds to end a drought of 143 races.


June 17, 2012

 

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

 

BROOKLYN, Mich. — At the same venue that produced his last NASCAR Sprint Cup victory, four years and two days removed from his most recent visit to Victory Lane, Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke the most talked-about, most frustrating streak in motor sports.

 

Pulling away from defending series champion Tony Stewart at the end of the final 60-lap green-flag run, Earnhardt won Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway by a dominating 5.393 seconds to end a drought of 143 races.

 

“I know you guys have been waiting on that one,” Earnhardt radioed to his crew after crossing the finish line. “I know I have.”

 

As Earnhardt performed a wild celebratory burnout on the frontstretch, fans and crew members crowded around Victory Lane as the crowd in the grandstands stood and cheered.

 

The victory was the 19th in the Cup series for Earnhardt, who solidified second place in the Cup standings, closing to four points behind leader Matt Kenseth, who ran third Sunday behind Earnhardt and Stewart.

 

Earnhardt overcame Goodyear's 11th-hour switch to a harder left-side tire, after blistering became an issue on the left sides originally supplied for the race. Earnhardt wasn't happy with the handling of his No. 88 Chevrolet during a extra practice Saturday night, but crew chief Steve Letarte found a combination that worked for the race.

 

Greg Biffle finished fourth, followed by five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who started from the rear of the field because of an engine change before the race but worked his way back into the top five.

 

Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, pole-sitter Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10.

 

Earnhardt took the lead for the first time on Lap 70, when he passed Ambrose for the top spot. From that point on, his was the dominant car; Earnhardt led a race-high 95 laps.

 

“Winning races is all you ever want,” Earnhardt said in Victory Lane. “You work real hard to get there, and I've got to thank (team owner) Rick Hendrick, the whole organization, really, for sticking with me.

 

“They could have picked another route, but they stuck with me, and we're back in Victory Lane. I appreciate everybody's support — Rick, the company, the fans, my team … everybody.”

 

The start of the race was delayed for nearly two hours by rain, but by the time NASCAR's most popular driver took the checkered flag, the track was bathed in sunshine.

 

About the only blight on the landscape was Tony Stewart's response to Earnhardt's long-awaited victory. Apparently tired of questions about Earnhardt's winless streak, Stewart resorted to sarcasm.

 

“It's no different than anybody else that does it — it's not a national holiday, guys,” Stewart said. “This morning they were celebrating the fourth anniversary of his last win, so I guess we're all in a state of mourning now, 'cause he's broke that string now, so I wonder what we're all supposed to think.”

 

Kenseth, Earnhardt's longtime friend, was more gracious in his assessment of the breakthrough victory.

 

“This year you could see it going to be a matter of time,” Kenseth said. “They've really been the guys — that 88 has had a ton of speed. They haven't always gotten the finishes (because of) circumstances, but they've been battling up there in the top five each and every week. They've finished every lap.

 

“I'm really happy for him to get that win. The championship part, I think they're definitely a contender. They've been right up there in the mix each and every race, no matter what size or shape the racetrack. I think they're definitely, at this point in the season, one of the favorites.”

 

RACE RESULTS

 

1. (17) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 200, $168,775.

2. (8) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 200, $179,160.

3. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 200, $155,096.

4. (3) Greg Biffle, Ford, 200, $120,910.

5. (10) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 200, $140,496.

6. (28) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 200, $134,046.

7. (13) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 200, $117,649.

8. (21) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 200, $120,176.

9. (1) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 200, $121,743.

10. (2) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 200, $134,346.

11. (42) Carl Edwards, Ford, 200, $133,426.

12. (16) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 200, $112,524.

13. (25) Brad Keselowski, Dodge, 200, $118,705.

14. (19) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 200, $115,218.

15. (5) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 199, $125,068.

16. (31) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 199, $109,693.

17. (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, 199, $119,621.

18. (32) Landon Cassill, Toyota, 199, $108,630.

19. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Dodge, 199, $122,860.

20. (24) Casey Mears, Ford, 199, $98,893.

21. (33) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 199, $119,735.

22. (18) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 199, $88,935.

23. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 199, $94,743.

24. (22) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 198, $88,285.

25. (36) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, 198, $80,485.

26. (39) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 197, $99,268.

27. (35) David Gilliland, Ford, 197, $88,857.

28. (12) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 197, $87,160.

29. (14) Mark Martin, Toyota, Engine, 195, $78,460.

30. (26) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 194, $85,385.

31. (40) Ken Schrader, Ford, 193, $83,735.

32. (34) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 157, $122,843.

33. (4) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 151, $83,910.

34. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Accident, 132, $120,451.

35. (9) Joey Logano, Toyota, Accident, 125, $83,310.

36. (41) Tony Raines, Chevrolet, Vibration, 68, $75,260.

37. (43) JJ Yeley, Toyota, Brakes, 67, $75,205.

38. (27) Michael McDowell, Ford, Vibration, 41, $75,093.

39. (29) Mike Bliss, Toyota, Overheating, 35, $72,340.

40. (37) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Vibration, 32, $72,300.

41. (23) Scott Riggs, Chevrolet, Power Steering, 27, $72,260.

42. (30) Josh Wise, Ford, Engine, 9, $72,195.

43. (7) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Engine, 7, $71,792.

 

RACE STATISTICS

 

Average Speed of Race Winner: 139.144 mph.

Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 52 Mins, 29 Secs.

Margin of Victory: 5.393 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 39 laps.

Lead Changes: 23 among 14 drivers.

Lap Leaders: M. Ambrose 1-5; G. Biffle 6-26; M. Ambrose 27-31; M. Kenseth 32-48; M. Ambrose 49-52; J. Yeley 53; G. Biffle 54-68; M. Ambrose 69; D. Earnhardt Jr. 70-82; D. Blaney 83; D. Gilliland 84; D. Earnhardt Jr. 85-86; T. Stewart 87-104; D. Earnhardt Jr. 105-117; J. Gordon 118; J. Montoya 119-122; J. Gordon 123-125; D. Earnhardt Jr. 126-162; G. Biffle 163-164; C. Bowyer 165; J. McMurray 166; B. Keselowski 167-169; J. Burton 170; D. Earnhardt Jr. 171-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): D. Earnhardt Jr. 5 times for 95 laps; G. Biffle 3 times for 38 laps; T. Stewart 1 time for 18 laps; M. Kenseth 1 time for 17 laps; M. Ambrose 4 times for 15 laps; J. Montoya 1 time for 4 laps; J. Gordon 2 times for 4 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 3 laps; C. Bowyer 1 time for 1 lap; J. Burton 1 time for 1 lap; D. Blaney 1 time for 1 lap; D. Gilliland 1 time for 1 lap; J. Yeley 1 time for 1 lap; J. McMurray 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 12 in Points: M. Kenseth - 565; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 561; G. Biffle - 548; J. Johnson - 532; D. Hamlin - 514; K. Harvick - 504; M. Truex Jr. - 497; T. Stewart - 491; C. Bowyer - 481; B. Keselowski - 458; C. Edwards - 456; Kyle Busch - 432.


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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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