Earnhardt Jr. has had his moments at MIS
Earnhardt Jr. was racing for the win during a 1999 IROC event at Michigan International Speedway. 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 Junior by just 0.007 of a second on one of many memorable days at Michigan International Speedway for Junior, whose farewell tour is passing through the track this weekend. Junior would go on to win Cup races at MIS in 2008 and 2012, and he will try to add another victory Sunday in his final race at the venue before he retires as a NASCAR star at the end of this season.
Those wins in 2008 and 2012 were his 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 1999 included some contact between Earnhardt’s car and his father’s — a fun story line if there ever was one. Later that year, Junior pulled away from superstar 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 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 no longer was an up-andcomer in his mid-20s. His win 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 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 barking with Kevin Harvick, who suggested Junior’s inability to achieve more success has hindered the sport’s growth.
But Earnhardt 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 than Junior.
“We’ve got some really good memories here. It’s been a fun track,” Earnhardt said. “There has been some conversation about the 1½-mile 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 1½-mile or 2-mile racetrack. This place is so much fun to race on for a driver. It’s a great track.”
Also on Sunday, Kyle Larson goes for a third consecutive Cup win at Michigan after victories this June and last August.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Johnson and Kasey Kahne will be racing backup cars after going into the wall during practice Saturday. Johnson also had to go to a 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.