Monday, June 18, 2012

Hendrick Garage: Dale Earnhardt Jr. rises in Michigan

Credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images for NASCAR
With Michigan’s repave and drivers reaching speeds in excess of 200 mph, the only question left was what wonders and excitement would the Hendrick drivers encounter once the green flag flew? Perhaps a “Dark Knight” would rise…

Kasey Kahne No. 5


Kasey Kahne’s day at Michigan was neither what he needed in the points nor what he was hoping for when the checkered flag fell.

He started his day off looking mighty strong staying inside the top ten. Throughout the day Kahne had handling issues with his No. 5, a problem shared throughout the field. He was looking to get a solid finish when suddenly on Lap 127 he got caught up in a crash with Joey Logano and David Gilliland, ending his day. Finishing 33rd, Kahne will work to bounce back at Sonoma. Despite the disappointing finish, he was able to maintain his 16th place position in the points standings.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24

Jeff Gordon wanted to bounce back and get some good finishes because lately he hasn’t had the best of luck. Fortunately the Irish Hills of Michigan International Speedway were kind to him this weekend. 
Although Gordon may not have been a factor in Sunday’s race, he had some strong runs. Gordon finished 6th, giving him a fourth top ten this season, just the kind of luck he needed. Now ranking 20th in the points, Gordon climbed two positions from last week.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48


Having to change an engine the night before the race, Jimmie Johnson had his workday cut out for him starting in the back of the field. That proved to be a minor hurdle; he quickly bounced back and turned his day around.

On Lap 25 NASCAR threw a competition caution due to a combination of the rain and tires. Johnson gained positions after he and crew chief Chad Knaus elected to take gas only. Johnson ended up having an uneventful day, staying inside the top ten and finally getting into the top five.  Towards the end of the race, try as he might, his car just wouldn’t pass so he had to settle for a fifth-place finish. Johnson had to coast to the finish because he ran out of gas on the last lap. He gains ones position in the points, moving up to fourth overall.

Batman, I mean Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88


One thing is for certain Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s day sure did rise to the occasion!  Sporting a special paint scheme from the upcoming movie “The Dark Knight Rises” he raced like he was The Dark Knight himself, leading 95 laps throughout the Quicken Loans 400. He and his car had risen to the occasion.

On Lap 71 when Earnhardt Jr. took the lead the crowd went wild, cheering and standing with excitement. It was a great sight to see. The No. 88 Dark Knight Rises car was flying like it was an actual bat pulling away from the competition, making them all taste his dust.

As the laps started to wind down, you could feel the tension through the TV. Everyone, including those at home, were on pins and needles praying and hoping nothing would go amiss. It had been over 143 races since Earnhardt Jr. had been in Victory Lane, fours years ago to the day at the very same track. Could he do it again? Could he rise and finally end that winless streak?

Fans celebrate Dale Jr.'s victory at MIS.
Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR
With a 5.39 second lead over second place Tony Stewart, Earnhardt Jr.  flew across the finish line finally ending his winless streak. Emotions were high, the crowd was wild, even fans at home were on their feet - finally JR Nation could celebrate. The drought was over. Earnhardt Jr.  is now 4 points out of first place, looking to rise up and be a championship contender.


Tony Stewart said in his post-race interview, with a tone of perhaps sarcasm, "It's not a national holiday, guys. This morning, they were celebrating his fourth anniversary of his last win, so I guess we are all in a state of mourning now because he's broke that streak now, so I don't know what we are all supposed to think." To that, Dale Jr. said, "I do. (Feel like it is a holiday) For me it is. (Laughter) I'm sure his running second for me won't be a holiday, either. It feels good to win, and I'll enjoy it, and in a day or two, I'll be thirsty for the next one."

"If you bring fast enough race cars, you don't have to get out of your comfort zone too far and you don't have to get super crazy with your pit strategy," crew chief Steve Letarte said on Sunday’s win. "We say it all the time, you just need to put in hard work, hard work every Sunday and this helps us understand that we are not crazy; that our goals and what we have been trying to do has been working."

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