Dale Earnhardt Jr. and fans endured four years and two days or in NASCAR time—143 winless races—before winning at Michigan International Speedway Sunday.
After the race Tony Stewart said, “It’s not a national holiday guys”, but he’ll never sell that to Junior Nation.
Stewart, who is known for mood swings that produce upbeat, funny plus sarcastic comments, added, “This morning, they were celebrating his fourth anniversary of his last win, so I guess we are all in a state of mourning now because he's broke that streak.”
Earnhardt’s legions of fans never seemed to lament his win drought; rather, they remained loyal and earned a day of jubilation. Twitter.com was rampant with comments about a celebration aftermath—like maybe a record number of sick calls the Monday after.
Although difficult to quantify, the euphoria shared by Earnhardt fans over this win likely dwarfed the elation felt by Stewart fans over his dramatic championship win in Homestead. Stewart is popular, but clearly he is not in the same adoration league with Earnhardt.
But the sweet taste of a long anticipated win soon fades with routine swallowing and drivers, teams and fans must move on. This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves to a road course in Sonoma, California.
Matt Kenseth retained the leader spot four points ahead of recent winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jimmie Johnson moved up one spot and Denny Hamlin slipped only one position after a fiery slide into pit road ended his day. Thanks to swift NASCAR officials Hamlin escaped safely.
Jeff Gordon moved up another two spots with a good finish, but will need more top-10s in the final 10 races before the Chase for the Sprint Cup roster is fixed. He will likely need a win—maybe two—to secure a spot.
Before the green flag waves at Sonoma fans might want to look over the “rock and drop” list selected for review from the top 24 this week. Drivers and teams generally move up or down one or two spots every race with the new stingy point system.
Not much movement could be detected in the top 12. Earnhardt won and other top point leaders performed well.
Fans with favorite drivers in the top 20 should be especially observant of points in the next 10 races as it will take wins or collective bad luck from point leaders to lift their driver into contention.
As always, consistency will support desired point results.
In a season where 11 different NSCS drivers have won in the first 15 of 36 races it might seem that other win surprises are on the way. Perhaps so, but among the top five in points, Hamlin recorded the lowest performance with eight top-10 finishes. Earnhardt has 12 top-10s. Kenseth and Johnson have 11. Biffle has nine.
Consistency lifts the leaders.
The top dozen select NSCS “rock and drop” list this week:
1. Matt Kenseth [--]
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. [--]
4. Jimmie Johnson [+1]
5. Denny Hamlin [-1]
8. Tony Stewart [--]
11. Carl Edwards [--]
12. Kyle Busch [--]
13. Ryan Newman [+1]
18. Jamie McMurray [+1]
19. Juan Montoya [+2]
20. Jeff Gordon [+2]
24. AJ Allmendinger [+1]
Select comments after the Michigan race might help point the way to results at Sonoma.
Coming off a big win after a long wait, Earnhardt was quick to be appreciative.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“To do it for my fans, they’ve stuck behind me for all these years,” Earnhardt said. “And I know exactly what they’ve been thinking about and how long they’ve been wanting us to get into Victory Lane. And so this is for them. I appreciate their loyalty and their support. And we wouldn’t have made it back to Victory Lane without it. That’s who I’ve got to give all the credit to.”
After an intense fire, Denny Hamlin has to be happy to move on from Michigan’s pit road with all his skin.
“I’ve never actually been in that position before,” Hamlin said. “I’d seen it with other guys, but I’ve never known what it’s actually like but it gets hot. I thought for a second there I was okay. Then something exploded in the front and it caught on fire. Thankfully we got everything that we have safety-wise."
“I’ll be glad to get out of Michigan."
“Ryan’s (Newman) guys came and got me out and a couple of the 18 (Kyle Busch) guys. NASCAR is a family and anytime anyone is trouble, everyone is going to go try to help. It’s good that those guys were around and willing to take a chance.”
Gordon has had a poor start in 2012 but he keeps pressing on and moving up.
“What a great day for Hendrick Motorsports and Junior and Stevie and all those guys on that No. 88 team,” Gordon said. “I’m so proud of them. I’m proud of my guys too; we fought hard to come from 28th. It was not easy. We had a really good race car today. I’m just glad we had a solid day as well. It’s something to build on.”
Matt Kenseth will never be called loquacious. When he has something to say he is often to the point.
“It was kind of a long day,” Kenseth said. “We were pretty good in the beginning of the race and got shuffled back and it was tough to work traffic today. They got the setup good on the last two runs and had good pit stops and we were able to stand on the gas and work our way up there to third.”
Despite equipment problems Edwards started 42nd and came back to stay in the top-12.
“We didn’t expect it to be that loose,” Edwards said. “It wasn’t a terrible day for some of the fighting and wiggling we were doing out there. It was crazy and I am glad we finished in one piece and got a decent day.”
Next race details available at www.infineonraceway.com
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanctions, teams or track representatives.