Earnhardt Jr. snaps skid on Father's Day

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates winning the Quicken Loans 400 on Sunday. (GETTY IMAGES)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates winning the Quicken Loans 400 on Sunday. (GETTY IMAGES)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:02 PM ET

BROOKLYN, MICH. - Say goodbye to the most wrenching losing streak in NASCAR history.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Quicken Loans 400 Sunday at Michigan International Speedway after four years and two days of utter frustration for the most famous son in racing.

The celebration was immediate and boisterous as more than 100,000 stock car racing fans were on their feet as Earnhardt drove the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet across the start-finish line on the 200th lap of the afternoon.

How long has it been since Earnhardt won?

Well when he won last at Michigan on July 15, 2008, George W. Bush was still the president of the United States and Barrack Obama was the junior senator from Illinois.

In NASCAR terms it was 144 races — four full 36-race seasons.

As one media wag mused as Earnhardt was doing a victory burnout: “Well now I guess we can tackle peace in the middle east.”

For Earnhardt it was relief, angst and joy all tied with a neat little bow.

“Those last 15 laps were the longest laps ever; that was the worst feeling, thinking that something might go wrong; it was terrifying,” he said after emerging from his car to a sea of well-wishers in Victory Lane. “The last time I won here four years ago it was a fuel-mileage race, this time we just whupped ’em.

“To do it for my fans, they stuck behind me for all these years ... I know exactly what they’ve been thinking about and how long they’ve been wanting us to get to Victory Lane.

“So this was for them. I appreciate their loyalty and support. We wouldn’t have made it to Victory Lane without (them).”

It was a race that Earnhardt dominated, leading 95 of 200 laps.

At every re-start when he was challenged, first early in the race by Greg Biffle, then by teammate Jeff Gordon and at the end by Tony Stewart, Earnhardt just got stronger.

In the end he all but coasted to the win, beating Stewart to the line by 5.393 seconds.

Earnhardt said that he didn’t think that Sunday would be his day in the sun.

“I woke up yesterday thinking that we weren’t going to have a very good race,” he said. “It turned out to be the exact opposite.”

The win immediately pushes Earnhardt into the favourite’s role to win his first Sprint Cup championship after 13 years in NASCAR’s top circuit.

He closed to within four points of championship leader Matt Kenseth who finished third on Sunday.

Lost in the discussion of Earnhardt’s lengthy skid was the fact that over that period he wasn’t exactly running at the back of the pack, with seven heart-breaking second-place finishes. Prior to the start of the skid he had 18 Cup victories.

It was poignant that Earnhardt’s win should come on Father’s Day as he has always had to deal with the legacy of his father — arguably NASCAR’s most famous driver — who notched seven championships and 76 wins in his career before his tragic death in the 2001 Daytona 500.

FINISH LINES

The decision by NASCAR and Goodyear to change to harder left-side tires for Sunday’s race to bring down speeds worked. After three days of practice at Michigan’s two-mile oval, where speeds were consistently above 200 m.p.h., the new tires brought speeds down to the 190 m.p.h. range for the race ... It was a case of worst-to-first for D.J. Kennington at the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Clarington 200 at the Speedway at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park on Saturday in the No. 17 Castrol Edge Dodge. Kennington started last but was in the top five after just 27 laps. Mark Dilley finished second in the No. 02 PartSource/BDI/Leland Ford with points leaders J.R. Fitzpatrick third in the No. 84 Equipment Express Chevrolet ... Audi made history at the Le Mans 24 Hours by claiming the overall win in a hybrid car — the Audi R18 E-Tron — with drivers Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler.

TOP 10

Top 10 finishers at Quicken Loans 400

1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet

2 Tony Stewart Chevrolet

3 Matt Kenseth Ford

4 Greg Biffle Ford

5 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet

6 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet

7 Clint Bowyer Toyota

8 Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet

9 Marcos Ambrose Ford

10 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet

 


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