After going winless in 143 starts, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally return backed to victory lanes four years after his last win in 2008.
Ironically he ended his streak at the same place he won his last race at Michigan International Speedway and did it on Father’s Day.
Coming into the race, Earnhardt didn’t seem like he would be a factor. Earnhardt was the most vocal driver after Goodyear switched to a harder left side tires. The 88 team couldn’t find the handling with the new tire which made Junior upset.
He started 15th and quickly fell back into the late 20s. During the competition caution, crew chief Steve Letarte added a spring rubber in the left rear of the car which turned his car around completely.
On a day where it was hard to pass, Junior seemed to be the only car on the track that was able to make passes with ease. By the time the end of the race came around, Earnhardt was well over two tenths of a second faster than anyone else on the track and the only thing that would stop him from victory lane was a caution. Luckily for the 88 team it didn’t come out as Junior won by over five seconds over second place Tony Stewart.
For Earnhardt, this win is just what he needs to officially make himself a favorite to win the championship. He has had dominate cars in the past and has been close to winning; however, he was never able to close the deal. This win could also just be the first domino it what has been a very impressive season for Junior so far.
Now sitting second in points, he is the only driver this season that has completed every lap this season and has been consistent all year. He leads all drivers in top 10 finishes with 12 and is even running strong at places that Earnhardt himself has said aren’t his best tracks.
This not only shows how strong Hendrick Motorsports is this season, but it also shows how far along the chemistry between Letarte and Earnhardt has come. Ever since the crew chief swap was made, these two have had an instant bond. The way Letarte handles Junior has even helped with his attitude off the track. His head is held high in interviews and he praises the team for their performances even on days where he had strong cars that led to poor finishes. He still would have his confidence based on how well they did run during the day.
This winless streak was a long one for Junior, but his next victory should not be that far away. In the past six races he has scored the second most points and has had the dominate car two weeks in a row. But for now, I’m sure all Junior and his fans want to do is celebrate a win that was a long time in the making.
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