Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

On June 15, 2008, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Michigan International Speedway for his first win at Hendrick Motorsports.  Four years later, he was still looking for his second win as a member of the Hendrick team.  After 143-races without a win, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally broke through to win at Michigan International Speedway. 

Dale Jr. celebrates his first win in four years (Courtesy Getty Images)
The teams were welcomed to the track this morning by a rain storm, and the start of the race was delayed.  After a wait that lasted nearly two hours, Marcos Ambrose led the field to the green flag.  Ambrose was able to jump out to the lead, while Kevin Harvick, who started second, got a horrible start.  He dropped back to fifth place after one lap.  On lap two, the first caution came out for a spin by Kurt Busch.  Busch was up high in Turn 2 and the car got away from him.

The race restarted on lap five, with Ambrose leading Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, and Kevin Harvick.  Biffle drove his car above Ambrose, and tried to take the lead.  However, he was too high and had to give Ambrose the lead.  One lap later, Ambrose got very loose coming out of two and Greg Biffle took over the race lead.  On lap ten, Josh Wise's engine blew up, bringing out the day's second caution. 

The restart came on lap 16, and Biffle led Ambrose, Logano, Kahne, and Kenseth to the green flag.  Biffle was able to pull ahead of Ambrose on the restart to hold onto the lead.  Biffle was able to hold off Ambrose until the first competition caution came out on lap 26.  The field came in to pit for fuel for the first time during the race.  Marcos Ambrose got the lead in the pits, and he led the field to the green flag on lap 31.  He was followed by Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, and Kyle Busch.  Ambrose was able to stay in the lead until lap 32, when Kenseth was able to get around Ambrose to take the lead.  On lap 49, Kenseth and Ambrose ran into some lap traffic, and when Kenseth went around the lapped car on the outside, Ambrose dove to the inside and took the lead.  The second competition caution came out on lap 51.  The field came in for pit stops, and Greg Biffle gained the lead. 

Greg Biffle leads Marcos Ambrose (Courtesy Getty Images)
The race restarted on lap 56, and Greg Biffle led Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski, Marcos Ambrose, and AJ Allmendinger.  Biffle jumped out to a quick lead, and Ambrose was able to get around Martin to take second place.  On lap 71, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead away from Biffle and began to pull away from the field.  The caution came out on lap 82 for debris, just as some of the mid-pack cars began coming in for green flag pit stops.  The field came in to make pit stops under caution, and Earnhardt was able to stay in the lead.  Under the caution, Kyle Busch had an engine issue for the third week in a row, and took his car to the garage. 

On lap 87, Dale Jr. led Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, and Greg Biffle to the green flag.  When the cars got to Turn 1, Stewart drove the car into the corner and was able to take the lead away from Earnhardt.  On lap 104, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to get back up to Stewart and take the lead away from the Office Depot Chevrolet.  On lap 114, Brad Keselowski pitted for a blistered right-rear tire.  Two laps later, the rest of the field began to come in to start a round of green flag pit stops.  On lap 121, while Juan Pablo Montoya was the leader, Kurt Busch spun to bring out another caution. 

Kurt Busch's damaged car sits on pit road (Courtesy Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon was the leader when the race restarted on lap 126, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Carl Edwards.  Earnhardt was able to jump out to the lead after restarting on the high side.  The same lap, Joey Logano spun himself out off of  David Gilliland's bumper, and the wreck collected Kasey Kahne as well. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. led Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer, and Tony Stewart to the green flag on lap 133.  For second straight restart, the caution came out on the same lap as the green flag, this time for a spin by Denny Hamlin.  Hamlin got spun around by Ryan Newman, and he spun and hit the grass, which ripped the left side off the car.  As he was driving down pit road, the car erupted in flames, and he quickly came to a stop, got out of the car, and got the fire extinguished. 

Denny Hamlin's car catches fire on pit road (Courtesy Getty Images)
The race restarted on lap 141, and Dale Jr. led Gordon, Bowyer, Stewart, and Biffle to the green flag.  Junior grabbed the lead on the restart, and Tony Stewart was able to get around Gordon for second.  With about 40 laps to go, the final round of green flag pit stops began.  With about 30 laps to go, Dale Earnhardt Jr. cycled around to become the leader once again.  He began to pull away from the rest of the field, and he cruised to his first victory in four years.  Tony Stewart finished second, followed by Roush-Fenway teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.  Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon finished fifth and sixth, respectively.  Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the Top 10.  Carl Edwards finished 11th, and Brad Keselowski finished 13th.  Mark Martin had engine troubles with five laps to go, and finished 29th after running in the Top 10 most of the day.  This will be Mark Martin's last race until the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis on July 29th.  Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano finished 32nd-35th.

The streak is over.  After four years and 143 races, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally returned to Victory Lane with a win in the Quicken Loans 400 from Michigan International Speedway.  Next week, the Sprint Cup Series will head out west to Sonoma for the Toyota/Save Mart 350.  The race can be seen live at 2 p.m., only on TNT.

The streak is over. (Courtesy Getty Images)

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