Earnhardt gets win four years in the making

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Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent

On June 15, 2008, Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulled his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet into victory lane at Michigan International Speedway. After 143 races without a win, he returned to victory lane, again at Michigan, on Sunday after the Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

"We just had a really good car," Earnhardt said. "The Chevrolet was really fast.

Those last 15 laps were the longest laps ever.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Tony Stewart finished second in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, and Matt Kenseth was third in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

“It was kind of a long day," Kenseth said. "We were pretty good in the beginning of the race and got shuffled back and it was tough to work traffic today. They got the setup good on the last two runs and had good pit stops and we were able to stand on the gas and work our way up there to third.”

Earnhardt dominated the second two-thirds of the race. After four early cautions, including two competition cautions in the first 50 laps because of a new left tire and rain that delayed the start of the race on the newly repaved MIS surface by nearly two hours, the No. 88 made his way toward the front and claimed second on lap 69. He passed Pole sitter Marcos Ambrose in the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford on lap 70 to take the lead for the first time in the 200 lap race.

"I don't know what all he did, but he made it right," Earnhardt said of the changes crew chief Steve Letarte made to the car during the flurry of early-race cautions.

For the remainder of the race, Stewart proved to be Earnhardt's toughest competition, running second most of the rest of the way. Stewart took the lead from Earnhardt on a restart following a caution for debris on lap 81, but just around the halfway point of the race, the No. 88 made its way back to the front.

Jeff Gordon inherited the lead after a caution for the spinning No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet of Kurt Busch on lap 120, but when the race when back to green, Earnhardt reclaimed his lead. Gordon ran second to Earnhardt for several laps, until Stewart moved back into the runner-up position on the restart following a lap 133 caution brought out by the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin.

Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

The field cycled through green flag pit stops just after lap 163, with Earnhardt and Stewart back in the top-two spots -- the No. 88 in first and the No. 14 second.

Earnhardt and Stewart ran one and two the rest of the way, with Earnhardt pulling away in the final laps for his first win in just over four years.

"This crew, it's been a long time since they've won," Letarte said. "They really deserve it.

For the driver, the end of the race seemed like a long-time coming.

"Those last 15 laps were the longest laps ever," Earnhardt said in victory lane.

Greg Biffle finished fourth in the No. 16 Roush Fenway Ford, and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-five in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after starting the race in the back because of a changed engine.

Gordon wound up sixth.

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags chevrolet, earnhardt, featured, hendrick, kenseth, michigan, stewart, vincent