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Earnhardt Jr. breaks dry spell, wins in Michigan

NASCAR Sprint Cup
Sunday, June 17, 2012

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates
Getty Images for NASCAR

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."

Results

FIN ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 17 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Diet Mtn. Dew / The Dark Knight Rises / National Guard 48/2 200 Running
2 8 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Office Depot / Mobil 1 43/1 200 Running
3 6 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Ford EcoBoost 42/1 200 Running
4 3 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M / Rite Aid / Nexcare 41/1 200 Running
5 10 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 39/0 200 Running
6 28 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet DuPont 39/1 200 Running
7 13 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 5-hour Energy 38/1 200 Running
8 21 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 37/1 200 Running
9 1 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Stanley 36/1 200 Running
10 2 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Budweiser Folds of Honor 34/0 200 Running
11 42 99 Carl Edwards Ford Fastenal 33/0 200 Running
12 16 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts 32/0 200 Running
13 25 2 Brad Keselowski Dodge Miller Lite 32/1 200 Running
14 19 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet McDonald's 31/1 200 Running
15 5 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet U.S. Army 29/0 200 Running
16 31 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Charter 28/0 200 Running
17 15 43 Aric Almirola Ford Medallion Financial 27/0 200 Running
18 32 83 Landon Cassill Toyota Burger King 26/0 200 Running
19 20 22 AJ Allmendinger Dodge Shell / Pennzoil 25/0 200 Running
20 24 13 Casey Mears Ford Valvoline NextGen 24/0 200 Running
21 33 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar 24/1 200 Running
22 18 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Menards / Duracell 22/0 200 In Pit
23 38 34 David Ragan Ford Front Row Motorsports 21/0 200 Running
24 22 33 Austin Dillon Chevrolet American Ethanol 0 198 Running
25 36 36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet SealWrap 20/1 198 Running
26 39 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Burger King 18/0 197 Running
27 35 38 David Gilliland Ford Long John Silver's 18/1 197 Running
28 12 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row Racing 16/0 197 Running
29 14 55 Mark Martin Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 16/1 195 In Pit
30 26 51 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Phoenix Construction Services 14/0 194 Running
31 40 32 Ken Schrader Ford Federated Auto Parts 13/0 193 Running
32 34 18 Kyle Busch Toyota Snickers 12/0 157 Running
33 4 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Farmers Insurance 11/0 151 In Pit
34 11 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Office 10/0 132 In Pit
35 9 20 Joey Logano Toyota The Home Depot 9/0 125 In Pit
36 41 10 Tony Raines Chevrolet Tommy Baldwin Racing 8/0 68 In Pit
37 43 249 J.J. Yeley Toyota America Israel Racing / JPO Absorbents 8/1 67 In Pit
38 27 98 Michael McDowell Ford Presbyterian Healthcare System 6/0 41 In Pit
39 29 119 Mike Bliss Toyota Humphrey Smith Racing 0 35 In Pit
40 37 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota AM / FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves 0 32 In Pit
41 23 23 Scott Riggs Chevrolet North Texas Pipe 3/0 27 In Pit
42 30 26 Josh Wise * Ford MDS Transport 2/0 9 Out of Race
43 7 21 Trevor Bayne Ford Motorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center 0 7 Out of Race

* Denotes Rookie

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