Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Wins at Michigan on Father's Day
The Sprint Cup Series headed to Michigan this Father’s Day weekend to compete in the LifeLock 400. Qualifying for the race was rained out on Friday, so the field was set by this year's owners points. That allowed Kyle Busch to start from the pole position, with Jeff Burton alongside in second.
Busch led the field down for the green flag, but within three laps the first caution flag of the race came out for a spin by Dave Blaney on the backstretch. Blaney had broken something in his rear axle and ended up going 22 laps down before finally getting it fixed.
The race was restarted on lap 6 with Busch as the leader, but that would not last for long. Jimmie Johnson caught Busch shortly after the green flag had waved and blew by Busch for the lead. Johnson would lead through the early stages of the race until Brian Vickers passed him on lap 34 for the lead.
Vickers came all the way from the 18th starting position all the way to the lead in just 34 laps. Vickers would remain the leader until the first round of green flag pit stops occurred around lap 39.
Johnson and Michael Waltrip would both lead the race before making their scheduled pit stops and collecting five bonus points for leading the race. Waltrip really needed those points because he was currently outside the top 35 in owner’s points before the race. After the pit stops cycled through on lap 34, Vickers had resumed the lead once again.
Vickers would continue to lead the race through the next round of green flag stops that took place around lap 79. Unfortunately for Vickers, Matt Kenseth would be the leader of the race after pit stops were completed on lap 82.
Kenseth was leading the race by a good margin over Vickers when a caution flag came out on lap 92 for debris. The leaders would take advantage and pit under the caution for fresh tires and fuel. Carl Edwards ended up coming out of the pits first with only a two-tire stop bumping Kenseth back to second on the restart.
Edwards would lead the field down on the restart, but within 10 laps the caution flag waved again for a spin by Kurt Busch coming off turn two. The top seven drivers would stay out under the caution while the rest of the field would take advantage and top off on fuel. The top seven cars on the restart were Edwards, Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Vickers, Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Gordon.
Shortly after the race resumed, Kenseth passed Edwards back for the lead on lap 114. The race would stay under the green flag which set off another round off pit stops around lap 138. Drivers who ended up leading a lap before making their pit stops included Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, AJ Allmendinger, and Sam Hornish. After the pit stops cycled through around lap 144, Kenseth was back at the head of the field.
After the pit stops were completed the caution flag waved for a spin by Bobby Labonte coming out of turn two. The leaders would come to pit road with Kyle Busch coming out first. Busch would not restart the race as the leader because Johnson and Hornish stayed out under the caution.
Johnson and Hornish raced closely together and pulled away from the rest of the field. Too bad for Johnson and Hornish, though, because they would have to make a green flag stop for fuel with 17 laps remaining.
This handed the lead back to Vickers, who led for a short period before making his pit stop with 14 laps to go. Kenseth, Edwards, and David Ragan would all lead the race before making their scheduled pit stops.
That would allow Jamie McMurray to take the top spot and lead for the first time in the race with just five laps remaining. McMurray’s lead was short-lived though as Earnhardt Jr. took the lead with 4 laps to go. Earnhardt was saving fuel so that he would not have to pit again.
Earnhardt looked like he had the race in hand until a caution flag waved for a spin by Hornish coming out of turn four with 3 laps remaining. Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne, and Mark Martin all stayed out under the caution because they were trying to stretch their fuel mileage.
The race restarted with Martin running out of fuel just after passing the start finish line. Earnhardt would lead the pack around to take the white flag just hoping that there was enough fuel in his gas tank to make it around the track one last time.
Fortunately for Earnhardt, a caution came out for a spin by Patrick Carpentier and Michael Waltrip on the front stretch that froze the field and gave Dale Earnhardt Jr. his first win in 76 races dating back to Richmond in 2006.
It was also Earnhardt’s first win with Hendrick and his first points paying victory of the season. It’s funny how Earnhardt ended up breaking his winless streak on Father’s Day, because there is no greater gift that Jr. would have wanted to give his father than a victory.
The top ten were Earnhardt Jr., Kahne, Kenseth, Vickers, Stewart, Johnson, Edwards, Ragan, Elliott Sadler, and McMurray. Some notable finishes were Kyle Busch in 13th, Jeff Burton in 15th, Jeff Gordon in 18th, and Mark Martin in 25th position.
The top 12 in points are Kyle Busch, Burton, Earnhardt, Edwards, Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kahne, Greg Biffle, Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Stewart, and Clint Bowyer.
I just want to congratulate Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his crew on finally breaking through and earning that victory today by gambling on fuel. I believe that this win is the first of many to come for Jr. this season and I believe that he will be a serious contender to win the championship this year.
Michigan is now in the history books, and we can all look forward to a great weekend of road course action in California next week.
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