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Earnhardt breaks 143-race victory drought

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally made his way back into victory lane after a drought lasting 143 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, with a dominant win at Michigan.
NASCAR's most famous and popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was finally back to winning ways this weekend at Michigan International Speedway, claiming victory in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

It's his first win in just over four years - with Michigan also being the scene of that previous victory, too. But as it turned out, the way that he'd won this time could hardly have been any more different than it had been back in 2008.

"That race we won four years ago was a fuel-mileage deal," recalled Earnhardt. "Today we just whupped 'em. That felt good!"

That was a fair assessment of his performance in a race that had seen him lead for 95 of the 200 laps, including the final run of 30 laps to the chequered flag during which time he'd just been hoping and praying that nothing would go wrong to deprive him of this long-awaited return to winning ways.

"That was the worst feeling, riding around there with 15 laps to go," Earnhardt admitted. "I kept wondering what was going to happen, how you were going to lose. Those last 15 laps couldn't go by fast enough.

"I was in there, just going crazy. I'm looking all around the race track, looking for debris around the next corner. I just knew I was going to come around the next corner and see a big piece of metal laying in the middle of the race track," he said. "I was just waiting for something to happen. That was terrifying, to be honest with you."

The anxiety had been shared by his car owner Rick Hendrick, who wasn't present at Michigan because he was at home with his family for Father's Day. But that didn't mean he wasn't living through it with his driver and team: "I was doing laps around my couch, trying to end this race," he said later. "I was so afraid there was going to be a caution, or something was going to happen."

It hadn't exactly looked like a promising race for Earnhardt coming into the race. He'd qualified in the midfield in 17th place, but been very unhappy with the last minute decision by NASCAR and Goodyear to change the tyres to a harder compound to combat blistering on the newly repaved two-mile oval which was seeing speeds of over 200mph in practice and qualifying. According to the drivers, that change rendered practically all of their set-up work prior to the race essentially pointless.

Marcos Ambrose had won pole position over Kevin Harvick with the fastest qualifying lap in NASCAR Sprint Cup in the last quarter century at 203.241mph and led the field to green two hours later than expected at 3pm after morning showers had left the track needing to be dried before the race could get underway. Because the rain had washed the track clean - and in any case it was a new surface and there was the question mark of the new tyres - there were two competition cautions planned in for laps 25 and 50 to check progress.

Long before either of those there were two genuine cautions: Kurt Busch spun out on lap 2 and clipping David Gilliland on the way, damaging both cars. There was a second caution on lap 10 for Josh Wise's engine going up in smoke, and in between those cautions Trevor Bayne had also had engine problems and been forced to park the Wood Brothers #21 early.




Related Pictures

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Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 3M/Salute Ford, races with Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday in Brooklyn, Mich. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
The #11 FedEx Office Toyota of Denny Hamlin is towed into the garage area after an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday in Brooklyn, Mich. (Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew/The Dark Knight Rises/National Guard Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday in Brooklyn, Mich. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 ENEOS Chevrolet, is involved in an incident during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, qualified for seventh position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Busch is 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualified for sixth position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Johnson is seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, qualified for second position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmie John`s Chevrolet SS, won the pole position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Harvick is sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, poses with the pole award after qualifying fastest for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, poses with his wife DeLana, son Keelan, and the pole award after qualifying fastest for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #19 DrawTire Ford, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, and the rest of the field during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to win Sunday, August 17, 2014 in the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet SS finished second. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
With General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, holds the Michigan Heritage Trophy after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. In 2013, MIS began awarding the Michigan Heritage Trophy as a recognition and celebration of the automobile and it`s importance to the race track and the manufacturers competing in NASCAR. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with his crew after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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