Earnhardt Jr breaks spell at Chicagoland

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. didn't have the best car, Matt Kenseth did, but in the end track position was the winning strategy at Chicagoland. Earnhardt's team made a gutsy late race call to take two-tires which surged the No. 8 car into second spot...

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. didn't have the best car, Matt Kenseth did, but in the end track position was the winning strategy at Chicagoland. Earnhardt's team made a gutsy late race call to take two-tires which surged the No. 8 car into second spot behind Scott Wimmer, who did not pit.

Earnhardt easily sailed past the No. 22 Dodge to get his Chevy, which has struggled all season, into the top spot. Kenseth tried to hunt him down, but just did not have the time to make up the distance.

The No. 8 team quickly jumped on the team radio demanding Earnhardt do 'donuts' - stating that "it had been a long time". A long time indeed. Earnhardt last graced victory lane in November at Phoenix.

"My guys on pit road man they won the race for me," said an emotional Earnhardt. "I was pretty excited to win that race. We started out with a pretty decent race car. We weren't real fast in practice, but right there on the last run we were pretty good.

"But then when we started the race, the car was good and we started passing people.as the day wore on we just edged up closer to the front.we obviously didn't have the best car today, Matt Kenseth did."

The win buoys hopes for Earnhardt to make the Chase. He now sits 13th, 491 points behind the leader.

"As I got better and the race went on I think we felt better," Earnhardt said. "We all felt more confident than we did at the start of the race. Matt had the best car but we took a chance.

"I was amazed. I am real glad it paid off."

Kenseth led a race high 176 laps on his way to his best finish of the year. Unfortunately it was little solace to the driver of the No. 17 Ford.

"Not really," said Kenseth when asked if it was any consolation he had the best car. "We just weren't in front. It was a big advantage to be out front today. Hindsight is 20/20. You know, we were kind of a sitting duck. We knew we wanted to put four tires on the car because we ran so good all day, but you knew a bunch of them were going to take two tires."

Point leader Jimmie Johnson overcame tire issues to finish third. Johnson was running in the top five when he made an unscheduled green flag pit stops that sent him to 34th one lap down at the races midpoint.

Johnson had to battle his way back to the front.

"It was a really good day for us," Johnson said. "We had some issues with the right rear tire blistering on the first pit stop. And we thought we had figured out a way to cycle the tires and keep them from blistering and add some life to the tire, but unfortunately we had a longer run and the right rear blistered again and started to come apart so I had to hit pit road."

Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart complete the top five.

"If we would have stayed out like I wanted to, we would have won the race," Stewart commented. "But we didn't want to take any chances. Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) wanted to be conservative. We've had four top five's here, so I can't complain."

Johnson denied Newman the pole on Friday, but that didn't keep the No. 12 Dodge from finding a way to the front. Newman overtook Johnson at lap three to grab the lead of the event. But it didn't last long, as the No. 48 wheeled past Newman on lap 12.

A competition caution at lap 26 saw Johnson lead the pack off pit road, with Newman falling back to fourth. Roush drivers Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth filled spots two and three.

Johnson seemed to fall off a smidge after initial service stops. Biffle and Kenseth and several other cars blew past the No. 48 on lap 31; miring Johnson back in sixth.

Biffle handed the lead to Kenseth on lap 66, and the No. 17 Ford led uncontested through a rash of cautions and several service stops until lap 245 when he took four tires on his pit stop.

Scott Wimmer stayed out and assumed the lead and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took just two tires to gain track position as did several other cars knocking Kenseth back to ninth.

Earnhardt grabbed the lead from Wimmer on lap 257 with Kenseth in hot pursuit. As we saw in the Busch series event Saturday, even though Kenseth had the superior car, track position was everything giving Earnhardt his first win this season.

Several championship contenders experienced difficulties during the 400- miler at Chicago. Jeff Gordon had handling problems all afternoon, spiced with a tire issue and a wreck with 17 to go reduced Gordon to a 33rd place finish.

That drops him to 15th in points, 502 shy of the lead.

Carl Edwards (39th), Elliott Sadler (37th), Kevin Harvick (19th) and Ryan Newman (29th) and several other cars all had tire issues that cost them a decent finish at the 1.5-mile track.

Jimmie Johnson continues to lead Nextel Chase for the Championship standings. Greg Biffle (-108), Tony Stewart (-151), Rusty Wallace (-248), Elliott Sadler (-318), Mark Martin (-346), Ryan Newman (-352), Jamie McMurray (-358), Jeremy Mayfield (-369), and Kurt Busch (-376) complete the top ten.

There were 10 cautions for 47 laps and 17 lead changes among 12 drivers.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Scott Wimmer , Brian Vickers , Carl Edwards , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin