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Earnhardt Jr finally wins at Michigan

Team owner Rick Hendrick congratulates Dale Earnhardt Jr in Victory Lane, Michigan, 2008Dale 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
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