Earn­hardt Jr. has had his mo­ments at MIS

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Noah Trister

Dale BROOKLYN,

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.

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