Saturday, December 16, 2017
Sports

Fond track memories for Junior

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. was racing for the win in a 1999 IROC event at Michigan.

Problem was, his opponent was in no mood to let him pass.

"Dad drove to the bottom, so I just went around a little bit higher and it stuck, and I got along his outside," the younger Earnhardt recalled. "I was going by and he hit me."

Dale Earnhardt won that race over his son by 0.007 seconds on one of many memorable days at Michigan International Speedway for Earnhardt Jr., whose farewell tour is passing through the track this weekend. Earnhardt Jr. would go on to win Cup races at MIS in 2008 and 2012, and he'll try to add another victory today in his final race at the venue before he retires at the end of this season.

Those wins in '08 and '12 were Earnhardt Jr.'s only Cup victories from 2007-13. The latter snapped a 143-race losing streak. But his memories at Michigan extend further back than that.

The exciting IROC finish in '99 included some contact between Earnhardt Jr.'s car and his father's . Later that year, Junior pulled away from Jeff Gordon — who was at that point the two-time defending Cup champion — for a win in a Busch Series race at Michigan.

"It seemed like only me and him were racing each other for the win. I was very proud of that because I thought he was the best in the sport at the time," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It was like beating Jimmie Johnson if he came down to the Xfinity Series. So, that was a big deal for us."

By 2012, Earnhardt Jr. was no longer an up-and-comer in his mid 20s. His victory at the 2-mile Michigan track that year ended his long drought. He'd go on to win four more Cup races in 2014 and three in 2015.

Earnhardt Jr. is winless over the past two seasons, and he has only four top-10 finishes this year. Over the past week, he has been involved in a bit of a back-and-forth with Kevin Harvick, who suggested Junior's inability to achieve more success has hindered the sport's growth.

But Earnhardt Jr. has been plenty competitive in Michigan over the years. In fact, only two active drivers — Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth — have more Cup wins at MIS.

"We've got some really good memories here. It's been a fun track," Earnhardt Jr. said.

TRUCKS: Darrell Wallace Jr. made the most of his first NASCAR Truck Series race in three years, holding off a late challenge from Christopher Bell to win the Michigan 200 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

XFINITY: Sam Hornish Jr. dominated in his home state to win the Mid-Ohio Challenge in Lexington. Hornish, from Defiance, took the lead from rookie Daniel Hemric on lap 62 of 75 and beat him by 1.335 seconds.

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