Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dale Earnhardt Jr. "whupped 'em pretty good" at Michigan International Speedway

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and team celebrate his 19th career victory.
John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Dale Earnhardt Jr. did whup 'em, as he said in Victory Lane for the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/The Dark Knight Rises/National Guard Chevrolet took the lead in on Lap 70 and whether it was the Dark Knight on the hood or the Man In Black by his side, he never really faced a serious challenge. Crossing the finish line 5.39 seconds in front of Tony Stewart, Earnhardt celebrated Father's Day and the fourth anniversary of his last win by breaking his 143 race winless streak. The win is his 19th in his 450th start.

However, when asked if he thought of his dad in the closing laps, since it was Father's Day, Earnhardt Jr. said he honestly hadn't considered it, and that through all his interviews, it hadn't crossed his mind that it was Father's Day. This win wasn't for his father, or for the sport as a whole, it was for his team and for his fans.

The weekend didn't lack for storylines, and unlike most races at MIS, the race didn't lack drama. On the newly repaved surface, Marcos Ambrose in the No. 9 Stanley Ford won his first Coors Light pole award  with a track-record speed of 203.241 mph. He joins Benny Parsons, Cale Yarborough and Bill Elliott as the only drivers to record a pole speed of over 200 mph.

High speeds led to issues with tires blistering, so NASCAR and Goodyear made the call to change the left side tires to ones not used since Charlotte in 2006. While Earnhardt Jr. wasn't thrilled with the switch after the additional practice session NASCAR scheduled, saying that they felt like they were six years old, he and crew chief Steve Letarte found the winning combination. "I don't know what he did, but he made it right," Earnhardt Jr. said. "That thing was a rocket. I couldn't slow it down, it was so fast."

While Junior Nation and Hendrick Motorsports celebrate, the No. 88 wasn't the only car on the track. Finishing in second, Tony Stewart said that Earnhardt Jr. had the fastest car, that the No. 14 Office Depot Chevy was fast enough for half the run but not the whole run. Third-place Matt Kenseth ran well but said, "As soon as they changed the tire, I knew it was going to be a challenge. I think the other tire would have been easier to maneuver around the racetrack, but obviously the tire wasn't going to be able to hold up.  So I think everybody did really good to fix the situation and give us a little bit of practice and go out there and put on a race."

After a late start because of heavy rains in the morning, the race had 23 lead changes among 14 drivers and eight cautions for 39 laps. Joe Gibbs Racing had a bad day with Kyle Busch's No. 18 Snickers Toyota first brushed the wall, then broke an engine part. Joey Logano tearing up the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in a Lap 127 crash that collected David Gilliland and Kasey Kahne. Two laps after the green flag for that caution, Denny Hamlin's No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota went for a ride across the grass, ripping sheet metal and catching fire. Hamlin emerged unscathed but understandably shaken.

Also involved in two of the cautions, Kurt Busch started the race with a spin on Lap 2 after making contact with the No. 38 of David Ragan. Busch had some front-end damage and later spun again on Lap 120.

Earnhardt led five times for 93 laps, earning bonus points for leading the most laps. With the win, that puts him a scant four points behind leader Matt Kenseth.

Finishing order
Fin.  Start Driver 

1 17 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2 8 Tony Stewart
3 6 Matt Kenseth
4 3 Greg Biffle
5 10 Jimmie Johnson
6 28 Jeff Gordon
7 13 Clint Bowyer
8 21 Juan Montoya
9 1 Marcos Ambrose
10 2 Kevin Harvick
11 42 Carl Edwards
12 16 Martin Truex Jr.
13 25 Brad Keselowski
14 19 Jamie McMurray
15 5 Ryan Newman
16 31 Bobby Labonte
17 15 Aric Almirola
18 32 Landon Cassill
19 20 AJ Allmendinger
20 24 Casey Mears
21 33 Jeff Burton
22 18 Paul Menard
23 38 David Ragan
24 22 Austin Dillon
25 36 Dave Blaney
26 39 Travis Kvapil
27 35 David Gilliland
28 12 Regan Smith
29 14 Mark Martin
30 26 Kurt Busch
31 40 Ken Schrader
32 34 Kyle Busch
33 4 Kasey Kahne
34 11 Denny Hamlin
35 9 Joey Logano
36 41 Tony Raines
37 43 J.J. Yeley
38 27 Michael McDowell
39 29 Mike Bliss
40 37 Joe Nemechek
41 23 Scott Riggs
42 30 Josh Wise
43 7 Trevor Bayne

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