Earnhardt Jr finally wins at Michigan
|By Diego Mejia||Monday, June 16th 2008, 01:21 GMT|
Dale Earnhardt Jr finally ended a 77-race winless streak and scored his first victory of the season by gambling on fuel mileage in the Lifelock 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Earnhardt finally won his first points race for Hendrick Motorsports thanks to a risky strategy, which allowed him to lead when it most mattered.
While most of the leaders pitted in the last 20 laps, Earnhardt, who was slightly off the leaders' pit sequence, stayed out and grabbed the lead with six laps to go.
However, only two laps from the scheduled end Sam Hornish Jr spun at the exit of turn four causing the caution to come out and forcing a green-white-chequered finish, which made the race three laps longer.
It seemed unlikely that Earnhardt would be able to go the distance, but by switching off the engine behind the pace car and running on the apron to avoid air getting into the fuel lines, he was able to stretch his fuel mileage to the limit.
On the final restart he was fending off Kasey Kahne and a charging Brian Vickers until Michael Waltrip and Patrick Carpentier spun on the frontstretch at the start of the last lap, bringing out the caution flag together with the chequers for Earnhardt, who rolled past the finish line as his car finally ran out of fuel.
"It is what it is," Earnhardt said about the fuel gamble that got him to Victory Lane for the first time in nearly two years. "We didn't have enough. We run out coming to the white, stumbled off the straightaway so we were close.
"We were going to stumble to the finish, probably not win the race but the caution saved us. They can write what they want but we won one."
"This is pretty meaningful because this is with Rick (Hendrick). He's such a great man, he deserves so much. I'm glad to be able to win for him."
Kahne, who had topped up the tank on his Dodge Charger in one of the late cautions hoping to go the rest of the distance without stopping again, had more fuel onboard than the race winner but tried to save as much as he could in the last part of the race.
He probably ended up saving more than he needed relative to Earnhardt, but still came home in a good second place.
"We took fuel as late as we could under that caution because of all of the green flag runs today we just kept taking fuel, and just saved," Kahne said. "I saved for 42 laps right there, and I never ran out coming into the pits.
"We had enough to finish, dead green, and I guess it's just a good finish. It's kind of weird to be up here but it's a good finish for what we had."
Matt Kenseth passed Brian Vickers on the last restart to take third after leading a good portion of the race. Tony Stewart rounded up the top-five while Jimmie Johnson, who led the most laps during the day, was sixth in the end after his fuel strategy didn't unfold as he expected.
"I was just disappointed with the finish because the car handled better than that all day long," said Johnson, who also dealt with a gearbox problem. "I am happy for my teammate and it's great for those guys to win and get Hendrick Motorsports another victory this year."
Points leader Kyle Busch finished 12th despite being among the frontrunners all day and extended his gap to Jeff Burton in the championship by a few points as the Richard Childress driver crossed the finish line in 15th.
Despite his late spin, Sam Hornish Jr was the highest finishing rookie in 22nd, also leading a Cup race for the first time. Meanwhile Dario Franchitti had a short race following an engine failure due to a broken valve spring, which put an end to his afternoon after only 30 laps.
The top-four in the points remain unchanged, while Jimmie Johnson moved up to fifth and Kasey Kahne gained two spots and now ranks seventh in the standing.
Pos Driver Make Laps 1. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 203 2. Kasey Kahne Dodge 203 3. Matt Kenseth Ford 203 4. Brian Vickers Toyota 203 5. Tony Stewart Toyota 203 6. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 203 7. Carl Edwards Ford 203 8. David Ragan Ford 203 9. Elliott Sadler Dodge 203 10. Jamie McMurray Ford 203 11. Paul Menard Chevrolet 203 12. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 203 13. Kyle Busch Toyota 203 14. Denny Hamlin Toyota 203 15. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 203 16. Travis Kvapil Ford 203 17. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 203 18. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 203 19. A.J. Allmendinger Toyota 203 20. Greg Biffle Ford 203 21. Kurt Busch Dodge 203 22. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 203 23. Michael Waltrip Toyota 203 24. Patrick Carpentier Dodge 202 25. Mark Martin Chevrolet 202 26. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 202 27. David Gilliland Ford 202 28. Joe Nemechek Chevrolet 202 29. Terry Labonte Dodge 202 30. Casey Mears Chevrolet 201 31. Bobby Labonte Dodge 201 32. Regan Smith Chevrolet 201 33. Scott Riggs Chevrolet 201 34. Reed Sorenson Dodge 200 35. David Reutimann Toyota 200 36. Bill Elliott Ford 200 37. Michael McDowell Toyota 199 38. Juan Montoya Dodge 194 39. Dave Blaney Toyota 180 40. Robby Gordon Dodge 150 41. J.J. Yeley Toyota 116 42. Ryan Newman Dodge 114 43. Dario Franchitti Dodge 30