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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.


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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)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finished 7th Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Earnhardt Jr. is 4th, Gordon is 1st in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammate Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS won. (Photo Credit: HHP/Alan Marler for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS finished 1st, Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS finished 37th Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick  is 22nd, Kahne is 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd.(Photo Credit: HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS celebrates his win Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd. (Photo Credit: HHP/Tami Kelly-Pope for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS celebrates his win Saturday, April 12, 2014 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina. Harvick is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS finished 2nd and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished 3rd. (Photo Credit: HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevrolet)
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the #17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford tangle during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, lead the field to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, leads the field to start the NASCAR Nationwide Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway on April 11, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Stewart-Haas Racing team co-owner Gene Haas (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Stewart-Haas Racing team co-owner Gene Haas (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil/Hertz Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil/Hertz Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil/Hertz Ford, races to the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil/Hertz Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Damage to the winshield of Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Spring is Calling Chevrolet, is repaired on pit road during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, crashes early in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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