Earnhardt Jr claims Michigan checkers

Rick Hendrick was happy that he spent Father's Day at the race track even after one of his top drivers suggested he should stay home. Hendrick watched his newest driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., snap a 76 race winless skid and take the checkered flag...

Rick Hendrick was happy that he spent Father's Day at the race track even after one of his top drivers suggested he should stay home.

Hendrick watched his newest driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., snap a 76 race winless skid and take the checkered flag in the LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday.

He was glad that he didn't take Earnhardt Jr.'s advice.

"He told me maybe I shouldn't come today because he said that he wasn't running very good," Hendrick said in Victory Lane. "I'm glad I didn't stay home."

Earnhardt Jr. joined Hendrick Motorsports in a high profile move before the 2007 season ended. After winning a couple of non-points events at Daytona in February, he picked up his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points win with his new team.

Earnhardt Jr. started the race third based on his position in the point standings after qualifying was rained out on Friday. He didn't climb into the top five until a late-race pit strategy put him out in front of the leaders.

Earnhardt Jr. and McMurray were battling back and forth for the lead in the closing laps when Sam Hornish Jr. spun coming out of Turn 4 with three laps to go to bring out the caution and set up a green-white-checkered finish.

Earnhardt Jr. wasn't sure if he had enough fuel left to finish the race and shut his motor down to coast as much as he could during the caution laps. He said that even though they were really close to running out of fuel they were staying out and going for the win.

"We didn't have enough gas to make it until that caution came out," said Earnhardt Jr., who ran out of gas on the cool down lap. "We needed that caution. It is what it is. We run out, we run out. We knew we had a chance to win the race. They can write what they want about how we did it but we got one. We made it happen."

Earnhardt Jr. is enjoying one of his best seasons since starting his Cup career in 2000. He has 11 top-10 finishes in 15 races and was been held outside of the top 15 just twice all year. This is his fourth top five finish in the past five races and he is third in the championship standings.

"I was thinking about the great opportunity that I've got with this team," said Earnhardt Jr., who closed the gap to second place Jeff Burton to just 52 points. "I've got to thank all of my team for this. I don't want for anything they give me what I need. I just had a real good car thanks to them. It was a lot of fun today."

Earnhardt Jr. said that it was special to win his first race with Hendrick Motorsports on Father's Day.

"It's pretty meaningful because of Rick," Earnhardt said Jr. "He's such a great man and deserves so much. I'm glad to be able to win for him."

Kasey Kahne continued his recent hot streak with a second place finish. Kahne won two of the previous three races and has jumped up two positions to seventh in the point standings.

"It feels good to get a really good finish for a team effort," said Kahne who said that he knew he had enough fuel to finish the race under green. "We beat a lot of cars today because of our strategy."

Matt Kenseth had a stout machine all day and wound up with a third place finish. He led 41 laps and was in contention for the win until making a slow stop for two tires and fuel with 13 laps left in the race.

"We were kind of in a box there," said Kenseth, who is 14 points behind Clint Bowyer for the final spot for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. "If we didn't have the fastest car, we had one of the top three or four fastest cars. I wish we could have raced for it at the end. I think it was going to be close if we didn't get that last caution."

Brian Vickers also had a rocket throughout the race. He started 18th but needed just 34 laps to make his way to the front. He led 44 laps and finished fourth after a season-best second place finish at Pocono last week but said that he was disappointed that he didn't get a chance to race for the win.

"I'm not real happy," Vickers said. "I'm really proud of everybody at Red Bull. We had an awesome car, especially on long runs. We were the car to beat."

Tony Stewart rounded out the top five while Jimmie Johnson started on the outside of the front row and led a race-high 65 laps before finishing sixth.

Points leader Kyle Busch started from the pole but struggled with his car set up early in the race and held on for a 13th place finish.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Brian Vickers , Clint Bowyer , Sam Hornish Jr. , Kyle Busch
Teams Hendrick Motorsports