BROOKLYN, Mich. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory in four years, ending a 143-race winless streak Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
The victory came almost exactly four years to the day after his last trip to Victory Lane in a Cup race. That also was in Michigan on June 15, 2008. He led for 36 laps last weekend at Pocono but made a late stop for gas instead of trying to stretch the fuel to the end.
On Sunday, it wasn’t even close. He pulled away over the final 25 laps of the 400-mile race, and led by over 5 seconds in the final laps before his black Chevrolet with the green No. 88 crossed the finish line well ahead of Tony Stewart.
“Those last 15 laps were the longest laps ever,” Earnhardt said.
Earnhardt already had 11 top-10 finishes this season and was second in the points standings entering this race. But after another close run at Pocono, the questions kept coming about his dry spell.
That’s now over.
“Dale had the fastest car all day,” Stewart said. “It’s not a national holiday, guys. This morning they were celebrating his fourth anniversary of his last win, so I guess we’re all in a state of mourning now, because he’s broke that string now, so I don’t know what we’re all supposed to think.”
Earnhardt moved past pole winner Marcos Ambrose on lap 70 to take the lead, and although Stewart would lead for a bit, Earnhardt was in front again not long after the race’s halfway point.
Earnhardt led on lap 171, after a pitting cycle. With 25 laps remaining, he was ahead by 1.978 seconds. With 10 remaining, he had built a 5.468-second cushion.
The end was almost anticlimactic — and it was certainly a relief for the hugely popular Earnhardt.
After finally winning, Earnhardt stopped in front of the grandstand and spun his wheels in front of thousands of fans who were on their feet screaming.
It was the 19th Cup victory of Earnhardt’s career and second in 159 starts for Hendrick Motorsports. He had 17 victories in 291 races for Dale Earnhardt Inc.