Earnhardt Jr. Blisters The Field To Win Michigan
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
One hundred and forty-four proved to the be the charm for Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the Hendrick Motorsports driver broke free from his four-year slump and won the Quicken Loans 400 Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday.
Earnhardt, whose last victory in the series came at the 2-mile Michigan oval in 2008, dominated Sunday’s race. He led a race-best 95 laps in getting his 19th career victory but just his second at Hendrick.
“Pretty amazing,” Earnhardt Jr. “Those last 15 laps were the longest 15 laps ever.”
Earnhardt’s victory came by over five seconds over second-place Tony Stewart of Stewart-Haas Racing. It gave Earnhardt, who is second in points, his 12th top-10 finish. And it moved him to with four-points of the series lead.
“Man, this is incredible,” Earnhardt said. “I just didn’t know when it would happen. I knew it was going to happen, just didn’t know when. We were getting pretty impatient. I gotta give Steve Letarte (crew chief) and my team; the team he puts around us, all the credit. They’ve been building some great cars this year. We’ve been really strong every week and we have just been getting better and better. Last year we couldn’t really get better. We just stayed the same all year. This year we’ve been faster and faster.
“Hopefully we can win some more races. I just real proud of Diet Mountain Dew, National Guard, Sprint, Chevrolet, all of our partners. All the fans for sticking behind us through all these years trying to get back to victory lane. I’d say this win right here is more for them than anybody because they’ve supported us through everything. So, we really appreciate that.”
The victory marked another high in a season of highs for the Hendrick organization. Team-owner Rick Hendrick got his 200th career victory earlier in the season. Kasey Kahne got his first victory for the team earlier in the year.
And now, Earnhardt has come through.
Asked what kind of celebration was in store, Hendrick said, “Well, we had Brad Paisley come down and play for our 200th win. No telling what we might do for this one, I don’t know, but we’re going to do something. We do like to celebrate together, because the organization just works so hard, and they want to see Junior do so well. So stay tuned.”
Third Sunday was points-leader Matt Kenseth of Roush Fenway Racing.
Fourth was Greg Biffle of Roush Fenway while Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt’s teammate, was fifth.
“It was kind of a long day,” Kenseth said. “We were pretty good in the beginning of the race and got shuffled back and it was tough to work traffic today. They got the setup good on the last two runs and had good pit stops and we were able to stand on the gas and work our way up there to third.”
Biffle, who had big speed all week in testing and practice, said, “I am a little disappointed because we couldn’t run the car as hard as we needed to. The right rear kept coming apart on us. I could only run it as hard as I could.”
The final pit stops of the race began with just over 35 laps to go and with Earnhardt holding a narrow lead over Stewart.
When the green-flag pitting cycled through, Earnhardt had extended his lead to over a second and a half.
He gradually began pulling away. And then…the crowd went crazy at MIS.
Jeff Gordon finished sixth, Clint Bowyers seventh, Juan Pablo eighth, pole-winner Marcos Ambrose ninth and Kevin Harvick 10th.
As notable as who finished where was the list of who didn’t finish at all. Engine troubles, tire problems and bad luck led to a rash of DNFs.
For example, none the Joe Gibbs Racing cars finished the race.
Joey Logano, who won Saturday’s Nationwide Series race and last weekend’s Cup race at Pocono, was running well again until he wrecked on lap 127. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver slowed to avoid the lapped car of David Gilliland and was nicked from behind by Brad Keselowski.
“We had a top-10 or a top-5 car there,” Logano said. “Really a shame.”
Kyle Busch had engine problems and exited early and Denny Hamlin made it 0 for 3 for Gibbs when his car went into the infield and then caught fire big time.
The engine of Trevor Bayne’s Wood Brothers Racing Ford let go inside of 10 laps.
“I didn’t even get to break a sweat,” Bayne said. “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. I feel like we were okay and hanging in there and running top-10 so it is pretty disheartening. It is tough when you have a day like t his. I know these guys work so hard on the engine program at Ford and 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. I hate it for my guys because it isn’t like we are here every weekend and we want to make the best of every weekend that we can. At least we were running top-10 when it happened. It is a tough day for us. I wish we were out there making laps and getting better and getting experience and running up front.”
1. (17) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 200, $168,775.
2. (8) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 200, $179,160.
3. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 200, $155,096.
4. (3) Greg Biffle, Ford, 200, $120,910.
5. (10) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 200, $140,496.
6. (28) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 200, $134,046.
7. (13) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 200, $117,649.
8. (21) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 200, $120,176.
9. (1) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 200, $121,743.
10. (2) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 200, $134,346.
11. (42) Carl Edwards, Ford, 200, $133,426.
12. (16) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 200, $112,524.
13. (25) Brad Keselowski, Dodge, 200, $118,705.
14. (19) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 200, $115,218.
15. (5) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 199, $125,068.
16. (31) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 199, $109,693.
17. (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, 199, $119,621.
18. (32) Landon Cassill, Toyota, 199, $108,630.
19. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Dodge, 199, $122,860.
20. (24) Casey Mears, Ford, 199, $98,893.
21. (33) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 199, $119,735.
22. (18) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 199, $88,935.
23. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 199, $94,743.
24. (22) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 198, $88,285.
25. (36) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, 198, $80,485.
26. (39) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 197, $99,268.
27. (35) David Gilliland, Ford, 197, $88,857.
28. (12) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 197, $87,160.
29. (14) Mark Martin, Toyota, Engine, 195, $78,460.
30. (26) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 194, $85,385.
31. (40) Ken Schrader, Ford, 193, $83,735.
32. (34) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 157, $122,843.
33. (4) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 151, $83,910.
34. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Accident, 132, $120,451.
35. (9) Joey Logano, Toyota, Accident, 125, $83,310.
36. (41) Tony Raines, Chevrolet, Vibration, 68, $75,260.
37. (43) JJ Yeley, Toyota, Brakes, 67, $75,205.
38. (27) Michael McDowell, Ford, Vibration, 41, $75,093.
39. (29) Mike Bliss, Toyota, Overheating, 35, $72,340.
40. (37) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Vibration, 32, $72,300.
41. (23) Scott Riggs, Chevrolet, Power Steering, 27, $72,260.
42. (30) Josh Wise, Ford, Engine, 9, $72,195.
43. (7) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Engine, 7, $71,792.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 139.144 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 52 Mins, 29 Secs.
Margin of Victory: 5.393 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 39 laps.
Lead Changes: 23 among 14 drivers.
Lap Leaders: M. Ambrose 1-5; G. Biffle 6-26; M. Ambrose 27-31; M. Kenseth 32-48; M. Ambrose 49-52; J. Yeley 53; G. Biffle 54-68; M. Ambrose 69; D. Earnhardt Jr. 70-82; D. Blaney 83; D. Gilliland 84; D. Earnhardt Jr. 85-86; T. Stewart 87-104; D. Earnhardt Jr. 105-117; J. Gordon 118; J. Montoya 119-122; J. Gordon 123-125; D. Earnhardt Jr. 126-162; G. Biffle 163-164; C. Bowyer 165; J. McMurray 166; B. Keselowski 167-169; J. Burton 170; D. Earnhardt Jr. 171-200.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): D. Earnhardt Jr. 5 times for 95 laps; G. Biffle 3 times for 38 laps; T. Stewart 1 time for 18 laps; M. Kenseth 1 time for 17 laps; M. Ambrose 4 times for 15 laps; J. Montoya 1 time for 4 laps; J. Gordon 2 times for 4 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 3 laps; C. Bowyer 1 time for 1 lap; J. Burton 1 time for 1 lap; D. Blaney 1 time for 1 lap; D. Gilliland 1 time for 1 lap; J. Yeley 1 time for 1 lap; J. McMurray 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 12 in Points: M. Kenseth – 565; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 561; G. Biffle – 548; J. Johnson – 532; D. Hamlin – 514; K. Harvick – 504; M. Truex Jr. – 497; T. Stewart – 491; C. Bowyer – 481; B. Keselowski – 458; C. Edwards – 456; Kyle Busch – 432.One Comment