THE STREAK IS OVER
Dale Jr. celebrates his victory in Gatorade Victory Lane after breaking his four-year winless streak at Michigan International Speedway (Photo courtesy: Joh Harrelson, GETTY IMAGES)
NASCAR’s most popular driver endured a four year drought which spanned 143 races. Earnhardt's 143 races between wins was the sixth-longest streak in Sprint Cup Series history.
"That was the worst feeling, riding around there with 15 laps to go, wondering what was going to happen -- how you were going to lose," Earnhardt said. "Those laps couldn't go by fast enough."
Earnhardt's win came almost exactly four years to the day after his last trip to Victory Lane in a Sprint Cup Series 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. Junior did it in convincing fashion, beating reigning Sprint Cup Series champion and defending Ford 400 race winner at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Tony Stewart, by 5.393 seconds Sunday.
When the black Chevrolet with the green No. 88 crossed the finish line, Earnhardt gave his legions of fans a thrilling reward for all their support -- and patience.
"They stayed loyal," he said. "As soon as I got out of the car, that was my initial thought -- was about how many people were in their living rooms screaming at the top of their lungs, or running out in the yard, or whatever they do. I just wish I could see it all at once."
Earnhardt already had 11 top-10 finishes this season and was second in the points standings entering this race.
"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 remains second to Matt Kenseth in the standings. The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.
Like his last victory in Michigan, this one came on Father's Day -- fitting for the driver whose father has been so revered around NASCAR circles. Dale Earnhardt Sr. died in a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001.
Earnhardt had lost 76 races in a row when he won in Michigan four years ago. 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.
Earnhardt led for 95 laps. Nobody else led more than 38.
"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."
Next up for the Sprint Cup Series drivers is Infineon on Sunday, June 24 (3:00 p.m. ET, TNT) — en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16-18). Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.