After four years and 143 races – the agonizing near-misses and all those questions about when he might finally win again – Dale Earnhardt Jr. was alone in his car, comfortably ahead of the field and only a few minutes from victory.
“That was the worst feeling, riding around there with 15 laps to go, wondering what was going to happen – how you were going to lose,” Earnhardt said. “Those laps couldn’t go by fast enough.”
There was no falling short this time. Earnhardt held on smoothly at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory since 2008, and he did it in convincing fashion, beating Tony Stewart by 5.393 seconds Sunday. When the black Chevrolet with the green No. 88 crossed the finish line, Earnhardt ended a streak of 143 Cup races without a win and gave his legions of fans a thrilling reward for all their support – and patience.
The victory came almost exactly four years to the day after his last trip to Victory Lane in a Cup race. That also was in Michigan, on June 15, 2008. He led for 36 laps a week ago at Pocono but made a late stop for gas instead of trying to stretch the fuel to the end.
On Sunday, it wasn’t even close – but Earnhardt was still sweating out the finish, waiting for the other shoe to drop during the final moments of the 200-lap, 400-mile race.
“I was in there just going crazy,” he said. “I just knew I was going to come around the next corner and see a piece of metal laying in the racetrack.
“I just was waiting on something to happen. That was terrifying.”
Earnhardt already had 11 top-10 finishes this season and was second in the points standings entering this race.
Earnhardt remains second to Matt Kenseth in the standings.
It was the 19th Cup victory of Earnhardt’s career and second in 159 starts for Hendrick Motorsports. He had 17 victories in 291 races for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Kenseth finished third in the race, which included eight cautions for 39 laps.
24 Hours of Le Mans
Defending champions Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer overcame driving mistakes to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in Le Mans, France, and give Audi its 11th title.
Audi earned second place for most victories at the world’s most famous endurance race, five shy of Porsche’s record. Its main rival, Toyota, took the lead in the fifth hour but fell out of contention after its two cars retired.
The winning trio led the Audi No. 2 driven by Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish by one lap.
Marco Bonanomi, Oliver Jarvis and Mike Rockenfeller finished third in Audi No. 4, three laps back.
A total of 56 cars started the 80th edition of the race.
Seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher ended a 32-race winless streak in the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway.
Ron Capps topped the Funny Car field, and Mike Edwards won the Pro Stock competition.