On June 15, 2008, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at the Michigan International Speedway. It would be the last time he would visit Victory Lane for four years. On June 17, 2012, he crossed the same finish line to win his first NASCAR race in 143 starts.
“I was so nervous in the last few last four years ago,” recalled Earnhardt after winning the Quicken Loans 400 on Sunday. “And, today, it was the worst. I was just thinking, man, those laps can’t go by fast enough.”
Earnhardt took the lead on the 70th lap of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race and was dominant from there on. He led the race for 95 and pulled away from eventual runner-up Tony Stewart on lap 60. When the checkered flag flew, Junior was over five seconds ahead of Stewart. Matt Kenseth finished third.
As if Earnhardt Jr. hadn’t waited long enough for his next win, the race was delayed almost two hours due to rain.
The 143 races between wins is the sixth-longest stretch between victories in Sprint Cup. It is somewhat ironic that prior to finishing first at Brooklyn four years ago, Earnhardt had gone 76 races without a win. A fitting fact is that the two latest wins came on Father’s Day for a driver whose father, Dale Earnhardt, is iconic in the world of NASCAR racing.
“As much as it would be a good story, I had not really thought much about it,” Junior said about the fact his last two wins coming at the same track on Father’s Day, albeit four years apart. “It feels good to win and I’ll enjoy it, and in a day or two, I’ll be thirsty for the next one.”
Although much has been said and written about Earnhardt Jr.’s winless drought, Stewart jokingly played down the whole series of events.
“This morning, we were celebrating his fourth anniversary of his last win. So I guess we are in a state or mourning now because he’s broke that streak.” Stewart quipped, “It’s not a national holiday, guys.”
Earnhardt couldn’t disagree more. “For me it is.”
Kenseth continues to lead the Sprint Cup standings, but Earnhardt Jr. inches closer to the top of board and trails by only four points. Greg Biffle remains in third place in the standings.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule heads west to Sonoma, California, for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on June 24.