Dale Earnhardt Jr and Steve Letarte celebrate win - NASCAR photoEnlarge Photo
Over the past weekend, two well-known drivers ended their long waits to visit Victory Lane.
The more prominent of this duo is Dale Earnhardt Jr, whose 143-race winless streak ended at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, MI. Ironically, this is the same venue where Earnhardt Jr had his last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, exactly four years and two days prior to victory in the 44th Quicken Loans 400.
To get the win, the No. 88 Chevy driver pulled away from reigning Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart during the 60-lap green-flag dash to the checkers, winning by a dominating 5.393-second gap. "I know you guys have been waiting on that one," Earnhardt said by radio to his crew after crossing the finish line. "I know I have," he exclaimed before a massive celebratory burnout on the frontstretch as fans crowded the track barrier to share in the festivities.
Earnhardt dealt with tire supplier Goodyear's 11th-hour switch to a harder left-side tire to combat blistering on the newly-repaved and subsequently fast Michigan surface. While he wasn't terribly pleased with the car on Saturday night's hastily-called practice, crew chief Steve Letarte found the right combination for Sunday's race.
"We had some tough things to overcome this weekend with the tire issues; they made some changes and we were not ready," Earnhardt admitted. "When the race started, the car was not quite where I needed it to be, but we weren't in too big of trouble. We needed some adjustments and Steve (crew chief Letarte_ made some pit strategy choices that put us toward the front to where the car could respond, and if we had a fast car it was going to happen - and it did!"
Behind Earnhardt and Stewart, both Chevy drivers, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle finished third and fourth for Ford, while five-time champ Jimmie Johnson (Chevy) - who started from the rear because of an engine change - worked his way back to fifth. Jeff Gordon (Chevy), Clint Bowyer (Toyota), Juan Pablo Montoya (Chevy), Ford pole man Marcos Ambrose and Chevy's Kevin Harvick completed the top 10.
With this win, Earnhardt Jr lies only four points behind leader Matt Kenseth. Greg Biffle is third, Johnson is fourth and Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr, Stewart, Bowyer and Brad Keselowski (Dodge) complete the top 10 rolling into the Sonoma road-course race this coming weekend.
Tony Schumacher - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
In Bristol, TN, there was another sigh of relief as Tony Schumacher won for the first time since 2010. The seven-time NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Top Fuel titleholder ended a 32-race winless streak in the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. "That's one of those finals you dream about," Schumacher said after defeating regular rival Doug Kalitta in the finals. En route to his 68th final round win, Schumacher dismissed Dom Lagana, his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Spencer Massey, Clay Millican and Kalitta.
"There aren't any freebies in Top Fuel," Schumacher said after advancing to the point lead for the third time in 2012. "We definitely had to earn each and every round win today." Schumacher leads Massey 846-806 points, with teammate Antron Brown third (756), Steve Torrence fourth with 679 points and Morgan Lucas in fifth place at 667 points.
Now that's a real drag race! Courtesy J&J RacingEnlarge Photo
In the NHRA Pro Stock race at the same track, Mike Edwards (GM GXP) won the final over Alan Johnson's Dodge Avenger in a true photo finish, where the margin of victory was a quartet of zeroes. Edwards won on reaction time to better speed in the incredibly close final round.
The next NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event takes place at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, IL on June 28-July 1. That just happens to be in Schumacher's home area and is a track where he's known for going well.