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 Sunday.
“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 at the Quicken Loans 400. Earnhardt held on 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.
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.
“They stayed loyal,” he said. “As soon as I got out of the car, that was my initial thought – was about how many people were in their living rooms screaming at the top of their lungs, or running out in the yard, or whatever they do. I just wish I could see it all at once.”
The win 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.
Earnhardt had lost 76 races in a row when he won in Michigan four years ago.
“That race four years ago was a fuel-mileage race,” Earnhardt said. “Today we just whooped ’em really good.”
Earnhardt remains second to Matt Kenseth in the season standings.
Earnhardt’s 143 races between wins was the sixth-longest streak in Sprint Cup history.
It was the 19th Cup victory of Earnhardt’s career and second in 159 starts for Hendrick Motorsports.
Kenseth finished third, which included eight cautions for 39 laps.
Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., was fourth, and Enumclaw’s Kasey Kahne was 33rd.
Joey Logano, who won last week’s Sprint Cup race and Saturday’s Nationwide race, was out of this one after a multicar crash that brought out a caution.
Seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher ended a 32-race winless streak in the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, beating Doug Kalitta in Bristol, Tenn. Other winners were Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock). … Defending champions Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France and give Audi its 11th title.