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Earnhardt Jr wins first time out with Hendrick

NASCAR
Saturday, February 09, 2008

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Victory Lane
Photos by CIA Stock Photo

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

The "new" was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who on Saturday night won the 30th Budweiser Shootout in his first race in a Hendrick Motorsports car—with new sponsors AMP Energy Drink and National Guard and new car No. 88.

New, too, was the first race at Daytona International Speedway with the winged racecar NASCAR introduced into competition at selected tracks last year.

The "old" was Hendrick's continued dominance of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, a carryover from 2007, when the sport's most efficient team won 18 of the 36 points races. Earnhardt's teammates, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, finished third and fourth, respectively, behind runner-up Tony Stewart, as Hendrick cars claimed four of the first six positions.

The "borrowed" was Jeff Gordon's car -- and Johnson's, too, for that matter -- short-track backups called into service from after their primary Shootout cars were wrecked in a practice crash Friday night.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. crosses the finish line ahead of Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson
The "blue" was Johnson's No. 48 cobalt-colored Lowe's Chevrolet, which gave Earnhardt the push to take the lead on a three-lap run to the finish after the fourth caution of the 70-lap non-points event. With a car not stout enough to go for the victory, Johnson stayed behind Earnhardt and propelled him to the win.

In short, the honeymoon has already started for a Hendrick-Earnhardt marriage made in heaven.

"This is exactly what we needed coming out of the gate," said an elated Earnhardt, who left his family-founded Dale Earnhardt Inc. team to drive for Hendrick. "We've had such a long offseason, and this really made it worth it.

"We had a lot of help at the end from Jimmie. That was half the win. The other half was the car, being able to stay up front there at the end."

Earnhardt, who also won the Shootout in 2003, led 47 of the 70 laps Saturday night and earned the unqualified admiration of Stewart, who was second in laps led with nine.

"Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the best drivers that's ever been in a restrictor-plate car," Stewart said. "He knows where to be on the racetrack, and he knows when to switch lines.

"I'm happy for him. He drove his butt off and put himself in the right places at the right times."

Reed Sorenson was fifth, followed by Casey Mears, Dave Blaney, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.

After a break at 20 laps, the field restarted on Lap 21 with Earnhardt in the lead and Blaney second. On Lap 24, however, Jamie McMurray brought out the second caution of the race when he moved up the track
across the nose of Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota and turned into the wall at the exit of Turn 4.

It didn't take long after a restart on Lap 28 for the Hendrick contingent to move to the front of the pack. By Lap 47, the Hendrick cars of Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson and Mears occupied four of the top five positions.

A lap later, David Gilliland's blown right front tire triggered a wreck that also took out Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. After a restart on Lap 53, Earnhardt and Stewart battled for the lead until Kurt Busch's spin, along with a wreck behind him involving Ryan Newman and J.J. Yeley, brought out the fourth caution and set up the three-lap dash to the finish.

Results

Pos

St # Driver Sponsor Car Status Laps
1 7 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.  National Guard/AMP Chevrolet Running 70
2 10 20 Tony Stewart  Home Depot Toyota Running 70
3 18 48 Jimmie Johnson  Lowe's Chevrolet Running 70
4 22 24 Jeff Gordon  DuPont Chevrolet Running 70
5 6 41 Reed Sorenson  Target Dodge Running 70
6 16 5 Casey Mears  Kellogg's Chevrolet Running 70
7 19 22 Dave Blaney  Caterpillar Toyota Running 70
8 2 8 Mark Martin  U.S. Army Chevrolet Running 70
9 12 11 Denny Hamlin  FedEx Toyota Running 70
10 8 9 Kasey Kahne  Budweiser Dodge Running 70
11 3 55 Michael Waltrip  NAPA Toyota Running 70
12 20 99 Carl Edwards  Office Depot Ford Running 70
13 15 44 Dale Jarrett  UPS Toyota Running 70
14 21 07 Clint Bowyer  Jack Daniel's Chevrolet Running 70
15 13 49 Ken Schrader  HealthLife.com Dodge Running 70
16 11 96 J.J. Yeley  DLP HDTV Toyota Running 70
17 23 12 Ryan Newman  Alltel Dodge Running 70
18 1 2 Kurt Busch  Miller Lite Dodge Running 70
19 5 38 David Gilliland  FreeCreditReport.com Ford Accident 48
20 17 16 Greg Biffle  3M Ford Accident 48
21 9 1 Martin Truex Jr.  Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Accident 47
22 4 26 Jamie McMurray  Crown Royal Ford Accident 24
23 14 21 Bill Elliott  Little Debbie Ford Accident 15

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