The Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday ushered in a newly-repaved track surface and a left tire compound that hadn’t been used in Sprint Cup competition in several years. Something else that hadn’t been a fixture in Sprint Cup racing in recent years — Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in victory lane.
Just like the harder left tire made a return to the series at Michigan this weekend, Earnhardt made a return to victory lane at the same track of his most recent win four years and two days prior — MIS.
“That was a great race,” Earnhardt said in victory lane. “We just had a really good car.”
Earnhardt and the No. 88 team finished second seven times during the 143-winless streak, but they finally got over that hump and into victory lane on Sunday.
“This crew, it’s been a long time since they’ve won,” crew chief Steve Letarte said. “They really deserve it.”
While the win on June 15, 2008, was touted as a fuel mileage win, Earnhardt claimed his victory on Sunday in dominating fashion, taking the lead for the first time on lap 70 of the 200-lap race and only giving up the top spot for short spans of time to the likes of Tony Steart and Jeff Gordon.
“I don’t know what all he (Letarte) did, but he made it (the car) right,” Earnhardt said.
Stewart claimed the lead on a restart following a caution on lap 81, but Earnhardt reclaimed the top spot a few laps later. Gordon had a very brief stint up front following the next caution that came out on lap 120, but when the race went back to green, the No. 88 was back in the lead.
Stewart then took second from Gordon on a restart following a caution that came out on lap 133. Earnhardt and Stewart continued to run first and second until the field began cycling through green-flag pit stops for the last time around lap 163.
Earnhardt’s margin over Stewart grew during the cycle of stops, and the two drivers cycled back to first and second. Earnhardt’s lead continued to grow throughout the remaining laps.
“Those last 15 laps were the longest laps ever,” Earnhardt said.
With Earnhardt pulling away, Stewart held on to his spot in second for the rest of the race. Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle finished third and fourth.
After starting in the back because of an engine change earlier in the weekend, Jimmie Johnson finished fifth.
Gordon was sixth, Clint Bowyer seventh, Juan Montoya eight, pole sitter Marcos Ambrose ninth, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-10.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
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