Dale Earnhardt Jr. owes a big "Thank you" card to Michael Waltrip and Patrick Carpentier after his win today in the Life Lock 400 Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.
Because when it came down to the Green-White-Checker finish, Junior was about two pints of gas short of making it.
Rewind to 2007.
The story of the year was Junior's announcement that he was leaving the family business at Dale Earnhardt Inc. and moving to Hendrick Motorsports.
Never in human history has there been a simultaneous case of so many people having their collective panties in a wad. Earnhardt Nation didn't know what to think. Their boy was going to drive for "the enemy."
Today's victory will re-define the word "Conundrum."
But let's not get completely ahead of ourselves.
Junior has been the strongest running driver in the Hendrick stable so far this season. He showed the commitment and determination to work with the team that had been lacking at DEI for years.
He won the first two events of the year in the Budweiser Shootout and his qualifying "Duel" at Daytona.
Since then, it's been a matter of watching and waiting. When would Junior win his first points race? Would he live up to the Waltrip prediction of six victories? He's been consistent and in position to win, but he hadn't broken through.
So when Sunday's race looked like it would come down to fuel mileage, there was hope for the Earnhardt faithful.
In the waning laps, Junior was battling with Jamie McMurrary for the lead, though it was more a case of who wanted to be second, so they could draft behind the other and save gas.
Tony Eury Jr. and the 88 crew told Dale he'd have to save about two laps (four miles) worth of gas to make the distance...and that would be if the race stayed green.
Wait for it.
The faithful were on their feet-cheering, waving, and doing things the "Green Machine" (my new name for Earnhardt Nation to replace the now-irrelevant "Red Army" moniker) do.
Then Sam Hornish Jr., who was having his best run in the Cup Series to date, spun coming out of turn four with three laps to go and decided to trim some grass in the infield.
This would bring out a caution and slow the field behind the pace car. Other drivers were diving for pit road and a quick stop for precious fuel to carry them to the end.
Not Junior. Not today.
He was staying out. They would roll the dice.
Driving on the apron of the track, cutting the number 88 Amp Energy Drink / National Guard Chevy off and coasting, then re-firing it to pick up some momentum, Junior was doing what he had to do to make the distance.
Tomorrow, millions of registered "Green Machine" members will emulate this procedure on the way to and from work. It will result in the greatest single-day reduction in carbon-monoxide emissions, and a drop in gas prices as the supply goes up and demand falls.
Leonardo DiCaprio says "Thanks" in advance.
Mind you, Junior passed the pace car. NASCAR would make a call down to the 88 pits to advise their driver to fall back behind it.
Of course, he did... Eventually.
NASCAR wouldn't do anything to favor an Earnhardt, would it?
But the race re-started with a Green-White-Checker, and the 88 had enough gas to get up and go.
And he got up and went.
No one knew how much fuel was in the tank. It would prove to be not enough.
Except for the fact that Waltrip and Carpentier got together and brought out the caution when the field was on the final lap. All that Junior would have to do was maintain speed back to the finish line.
He did, he won, and he turned hard left to drive backwards up pit road to victory lane-running out of gas and needing to be pushed by his crew to the celebration.
The drought is over. Two long years.
As a Jeff Gordon fan, and along with many Hendrick fans who have welcomed Junior to the family with open arms, I say congratulations. Welcome to the team.
All thanks to some good fuel management, a strong car from Hendrick Motorsports, and maybe Michael Waltrip...
Because the Earnhardt faithful wouldn't possibly accuse NASCAR of doing something to help a Hendrick driver win, would they?
And there's no chance that Michael Waltrip knew his long-time friend was in dire straits, and a little nudge might be all that was needed to help him out...
There are no conspiracies in NASCAR, are there?
I say Bupkiss. Way to go, Junior.
Well, Earnhardt fans? How do you react to your boy winning for Hendrick Motorsports?
Somebody please 'splain that to me.
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