Earnhardt Jr breaks through at Richmond

It's been a long time since the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. graced Victory Lane -- since Chicago last season, to be specific. After crew changes galore and an entirely dreadful 2005 season, Earnhardt finally looks to be back...

It's been a long time since the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. graced Victory Lane -- since Chicago last season, to be specific. After crew changes galore and an entirely dreadful 2005 season, Earnhardt finally looks to be back on the winning track.

Earnhardt, Jr. survived a rash of late race cautions and the pressure from unrelenting rookie Denny Hamlin to earn the win in the Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Earnhardt ran up front all evening, but came on strong late in the race when he was able to pass Kevin Harvick, whose N. 29 Chevy dominated the first half of the event. It is Earnhardt's 17th career win and his third victory at RIR.

"We held on the best we could," said Earnhardt. "Tony Jr. (crew chief) made a change on the last pit stop that really helped us and we started running better. I tried to stay out of trouble and make it as uneventful as possible to tell you the truth.the fortunes sort of changed at the end and there I was out front."

Hamlin proved that a post-testing injury couldn't keep him down. He seriously cut his left hand, requiring 19 stitches, at the testing earlier this week in Charlotte. He finished second in his career-best Cup series finish.

"It was a great run for us," said Virginia native Hamlin. "I would rather run second here than in the Daytona 500. This place is very special to me."

Harvick, who was the class of the field all evening, led a race-high 272 laps but had to settle for third, "It was a good finish. We just got tight at the end and lost a little bit of speed."

Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch completed the top five.

"It feels like a win," said Biffle. "I could be out there getting the trophy. Congratulations to Dale Jr. That's awesome. All the fans here are on their feet. We had a great race car and just, unfortunately, stopped when we felt like it was safe and a lot of guys stayed out a lot longer than we thought and it caught us a lap down."

Biffle brought the field to the green flag and was out front through the first two caution periods. He finally relinquished the lead on lap 50 to Harvick. Harvick stayed out front through the next three cautions.

The No. 29 Chevy was still out front on lap 177 when green flag pit stops commenced after a long caution free period. Just as several lead lap cars were on pit road on lap 184, Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer made contact bringing out the sixth caution.

Harvick was the first off pit road retaining the lead. Harvick led through a long stretch of green flag racing until caution number seven came out on lap 260 when Martin Truex, Jr. spun in turn four.

The leaders pitted with Harvick once again emerging as the frontrunner. Harvick had a one-second advantage on the field when Truex's engine blew on lap 287 causing the eighth yellow.

Harvick led on the restart on lap 293 and was pretty much unchallenged until Earnhardt started putting on the heat on lap 323. The two ran door-to-door until Harvick got the No. 8 sideways on 324 allowing Kyle Busch to pass Earnhardt for second.

Busch put the screws to the No. 29 Chevy but Harvick held his line denying the younger Busch brother. During all the hoopla between the 5 and the 29, rookie Hamlin was able to make the pass on both cars for the lead on lap 331.

Hamlin quickly pulled out to a 10 car length advantage on the field hunted by Earnhardt and Harvick. Hamlin's charge was slowed on lap 346 when the ninth yellow waved. The leaders pitted with Kyle Busch getting the lead on the restart on lap 352.

Earnhardt managed to get around the No. 5 Chevy to put the Budweiser Chevy into the top spot. The tenth caution fell on lap 381 when Brian Vickers spun. Just as Earnhardt jumped out to a three second lead on the restart, Jeff Burton spun brining out caution 11.

The green flag flew on lap 393 with Earnhardt still leading but Hamlin was all over the No. 8 Chevy in a nose-to-tail battle. Earnhardt managed to hold off the hard charging rookie to score his first win of the season.

Jimmie Johnson continues to head NASCAR Nextel Cup point standings. Tony Stewart (-55), Matt Kenseth (-99), Mark Martin (-176), Kevin Harvick (- 208), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-216), Kasey Kahne (-247), Kyle Busch (-284), Jeff Gordon (-305) and Casey Mears (-353) complete the top ten.

There were 11 cautions for 61 laps and six lead changes among 12 drivers.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Martin Truex Jr. , Brian Vickers , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin