Earn­hardt has fond mem­o­ries at Michi­gan

The Washington Post Sunday - - PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL - NASCAR CUP SE­RIES BY NOAH TRIS­TER

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 will try to add an­other vic­tory Sun­day 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 to 2013. 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,” Earn­hardt Jr. said. “I was very proud of that be­cause I thought he was the best in the sport at the time.”

Earn­hardt Jr. is win­less over the past two sea­sons, and he has only four top-10 fin­ishes this year. But he 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,” Earn­hardt Jr. said. “It’s been a fun track.”

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