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Earnhardt breaks 143-race victory drought

“I have no idea what it was yet," said Wise of his exit. "Something went through the pan and that is all we know right now. It was a pretty big boom. It is a bummer. This motor we have run it quite a bit so it is not like it is a new motor that is blowing up or anything."

Bayne was also disappointed, saying that his car had been looking particularly good coming into the race: "It seems like nothing like this happens on a day you are running bad. As soon as you have a fast race car and feel like you are in the hunt, something comes up," he sighed.

"I didn't even get to break a sweat," he said of his early exit. "I don't know what happened here. I know we put some extra miles and extra heat cycles on it yesterday. I don't know if that has anything to do with it. Maybe we would have just expired later in the race. It is tough."

Greg Biffle now had the lead over Ambrose and held it through to the first of the competition cautions, which allowed Matt Kenseth to take the lead over Ambrose during the pit stops after Biffle had a slow stop and fell back to seventh. Kenseth and Ambrose still led by the time the second competition caution came out to mark the end of the first quarter, but Biffle got his bounce back this time through pit lane and emerged as the leader for the restart.

Further back, the cars looking strong included the Hendrick cars of Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson - who had started from the back after an overnight engine change - as well as the Joe Gibbs Racing #18 driven by Kyle Busch which had taken just 33 laps to overcome a miserable 34th place on the starting grid to make his way all the way up to seventh. Mark Martin was also flying in the Michael Waltrip Racing #55, while after the restart the top five also featured Penske's Bra Keselowski and Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya.

The pressure for someone to make a breakthrough built up until Ambrose and Earnhardt blew past a loose-handling Biffle on lap 70, with Earnhardt claiming the lead for the first time of the afternoon on lap 74 and looking mighty strong as he did so - not to mention looking like a distant cousin of the Le Mans Nissan DeltaWing in its Dark Knight Rising sponsorship livery in the process.

A debris caution just as the midfielders started to make green flag fuel stops allowed everyone a chance to cycle through pit lane. For Kyle Busch, it was a far longer stop than he'd been expecting, as the engine started to show blatant signs of blowing up and forced him to go to the garage area instead. The JGR team got it patched up and out again, but over 40 laps down.

At the restart, Earnhardt found himself contending for the lead at the green flag with Tony Stewart - and the current Cup champion nailed it. Earnhardt kept second ahead of Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle as the race reached the midway point, making it safe in the event that the earlier rain showers had returned - not that the weather radar was suggesting anything like that happening.

Stewart and Earnhardt were pulling well away from the rest of the field, but Stewart's purple patch was also on the wane allowing Earnhardt to blast past him on lap 109, some ten laps before a round of green flag pit stops got underway. Juan Montoya was one of the few not to have pitted - and was therefore out in the lead - when the sixth caution of the afternoon came out on lap 121 for a second spin by Kurt Busch.

Earnhardt was battling with Gordon for the lead at the restart when a major accident broke out behind them on the backstretch: sparked by David Gilliland getting loose and having a moment, Joey Logano had reacted to try avoiding the #38 and ended up heavily wrecked against the wall. Kasey Kahne had no where to go but right into the heart of the accident as well. Kahne was at least able to limp the #5 back to pit lane, but Logano was comprehensively done for the day, just 24 hours after winning at Michigan in the Nationwide Series race.




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