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Earnhardt snaps 76-race skid

Jun 15, 2008 - 11:20 PM BROOKLYN, Michigan (Ticker) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. snapped a 76-race winless streak, winning Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Earnhardt, who last won at Richmond in May 2006, gambled on fuel and barely had enough in his Chevrolet to survive a green-white-checkered finish. He ran out of gas moments after crossing the start/finish line under caution when Patrick Carpentier crashed on the straightaway during the final lap.

"We didn't have enough gas to make it," a breathless Earnhardt said in Victory Lane. "Good thing that caution came out.

"We were close and stumbled to the finish ... They can write what they want, but we won one!"

Kasey Kahne was second in a Dodge, followed by Matt Kenseth's Ford and the Toyotas of Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart.

"We easily had the fuel (to challenge Earnhardt)," said Kahne, who won last week's race at Pocono. "I don't know about Junior, but he must have had enough - he won the race. It still feels good to get a good finish."

Most of the lead cars pitted in the closing laps, save for Earnhardt, who chose to stay out and took the lead for good on lap 196.

The caution flew two laps later when Sam Hornish Jr. spun coming out of the fourth turn and slid through the grass.

During the caution laps, Earnhardt coasted around the track, turning his engine on and off and staying as low on the track as possible in order to save fuel, even idling past the pace car until NASCAR ordered him to stay in line.

When the race restarted on lap 202, Earnhardt jumped out quick and opened a several car-length lead over Kahne. Moments after taking the white flag, signifying the final lap, Carpentier spun, meaning Earnhardt only had to coast to the checkered flag to win.

He did just that, claiming his 18th career cup win and first on the two-mile Michigan track.

The win was Earnhardt's first since leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc. - the team his late father founded - to drive for Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt opened his Hendrick career with a pair of non-points victories at Daytona in February, but still had not captured that elusive points win even though he ran well through the first 14 races.

"We started out and he won the (Budweiser) Clash and the 150 (qualifying race) and we said, 'We don't have to worry about winning a race now,'" team owner Rick Hendrick said. "Then nobody counted it because it wasn't a points race.

"We've been waiting for this. Been so close."

Series points leader Kyle Busch finished 12th in a Toyota and increased his lead to 32 points over Jeff Burton, who was 15th in a Chevrolet.

Earnhardt remained third in the standings, but is now just 84 points behind Busch.

Kenseth led 41 laps but lost a chance to challenge for the win after a mishap in the pits on his last stop.

A NASCAR official thought Kenseth was going to take four tires instead of two and walked in front of the No. 17 Ford just as the former series champion started out of his pit. Kenseth didn't hit the official, but the hesitation cost him valuable seconds.

"I was hoping for some kind of break (from NASCAR)," Kenseth said. "The official walked in front of the car as I was ready to go. It was either I run him down or wait for him to move. The car just came up short because of circumstances and strategy."

Despite the miscue, Kenseth earned his fifth consecutive top 10 and now sits a mere 14 points out of the 12th and final spot for the Chase for the Championship.

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