Ju­nior has many good mem­o­ries at Michi­gan

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SCOREBOARD -

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 Earn­hardt Jr. 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 — a fun story line if there ever was one. Later that year, Ju­nior pulled away from Jeff Gor­don — who was at that point the two-time de­fend­ing Cup cham­pion — for a vic­tory 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-and­forth 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. “There has been some con­ver­sa­tion about the 1.5mile tracks with the words ‘cookie cut­ter’ and all that. That’s been a con­ver­sa­tion for a cou­ple of decades now. But this place here is, to me, the stan­dard for the 1.5-mile or 2- mile race track. This place is so much fun to race on for a driver. It’s a great race track.”

Here are some ad­di­tional things to watch in to­day’s race.

Kyle Lar­son is try­ing for a third con­sec­u­tive Cup vic­tory at Michi­gan af­ter vic­to­ries this June and last Au­gust. He’ll be in the spot­light to­day af­ter team owner Chip Ganassi gave him per­mis­sion to go to Iowa on Sat­ur­day to race in the Knoxville Na­tion­als.

Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports team­mates John­son and Kasey Kahne both are on to backup cars af­ter go­ing into the wall dur­ing prac­tice Sat­ur­day. John­son also had to go to the backup car in June at Michi­gan af­ter a prac­tice mishap.

“You have to run so hard here that if the car slips, it’s around and gone,” John­son said. “I ran a half a sec­ond faster to­day in prac­tice than I did in qual­i­fy­ing yes­ter­day. So, with the grill open and tires on low pres­sure and all that, es­pe­cially th­ese morn­ing ses­sions with over­cast clouds, you just run so hard that when some­thing hap­pens, it’s gone.”

Ford vs. Chevro­let is al­ways a matchup to watch in Michi­gan. Lar­son won for Chevy in June, but Ford swept the top three spots in qual­i­fy­ing Fri­day, with Team Penske’s Brad Ke­selowski and Joey Logano go­ing 1-2. Har­vick was third.

TRUCK SE­RIES

Wal­lace tops chal­lenge

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 Sat­ur­day at Michi­gan In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

Wal­lace took the lead in his No. 99 Chevro­let with about 10 laps re­main­ing in the 100-lap, 200-mile race. He had to con­tend with Austin Cin­dric and Bell to­ward the end, but Wal­lace was able to edge Bell by 0.18 sec­onds.

Kyle Busch fin­ished third af­ter win­ning the first two stages.

Wal­lace hadn’t driven in a Truck race since 2014, when he won four times. He drove full time on the Xfinity Se­ries in 2015 and 2016.

XFINITY SE­RIES

Hor­nish dom­i­nates

LEX­ING­TON, Ohio — Sam Hor­nish Jr. dom­i­nated in his home state to win the Xfinity Mid-Ohio Chal­lenge on Sat­ur­day.

Hor­nish, from De­fi­ance, Ohio, took the lead from rookie Daniel Hem­ric on lap 62 of 75 af­ter the sev­enth cau­tion at the Mid- Ohio Sports Car Course. He beat him by 1.335 sec­onds.

Rookie Matt Tifft, a Hinck­ley, Ohio, na­tive was third, 2.373 sec­onds back of Hor­nish. James Dav­i­son and Andy Lally com­pleted the top five.

Hor­nish led for 61 laps and avoided a 10-car pileup on lap 69 that re­sulted in the sec­ond red flag. There were also nine cau­tions.

Blake Koch of Kaulig Rac­ing from Akron, Ohio, won the first stage ahead of Bren­nan Poole. Hor­nish, who won the pole, eas­ily took the sec­ond 20- lap stage by 4.645 sec­onds over Hem­ric.

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