Break out the celebratory champagne and party like it's 2008 - Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally broke a four-year winless streak at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. It was the first win for NASCAR's most popular driver and it capped off yet another wild week in NASCAR.
The week started with a meeting between Phoenix Racing owner James Finch and driver Kurt Busch to determine whether or not Busch's wild temper still had a place with the independent team. Finch determined that Busch could stay, but in the wake of his suspension at Pocono, media comments would have to be kept to a minimum. Busch was thus silent when he arrived at Michigan on Thursday.
Of course, a strong run in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday meant that he would have to deal with the media, and the result was yet another fiasco. MRN complained that he blew them off for a post-race radio interview, which Busch denied. When he left the media center to cool off, ESPN's Marty Smith tried to track him down, leading to another heated exchange. As for his press conference, the extent of Busch's comments about returning from suspension were "it was great to drive the car."
Meanwhile, Tony Eury Jr., now Danica Patrick's crew chief, made news by calling out Austin Dillon for spinning her out during Saturday's Nationwide Series event. Eury insinuated that the move was needlessly dirty, going on to say "we all have egos - we don't want to get beat by the girl." Both Busch and Eury helped foreshadow a continuously strong season for Joey Logano, who won his fifth Nationwide race of the season on Saturday after taking last week's Sprint Cup win at Pocono.
As for Sprint Cup, practice sessions on the resurfaced Michigan track brought an unexpected burst of speed, as drivers were frequently and easily topping the 200 mile per hour barrier. NASCAR and Goodyear decided to keep the old tires for qualifying, but installed a new, harder compound that slowed cars down by about six miles per hour for the race. Marcos Ambrose took the pole with a lap of over 203 miles per hour, making him the fastest qualifier in the sport in 25 years.
On race day, Fords led the field for the first third of the race, but Earnhardt Jr. took the lead for the first time on lap 70. He would lead five times for 95 laps, usually yielding the point only as teams cycled through pit stops. In the final 30 laps, it was all Junior, as he scored a victory over Tony Stewart by 5.393 seconds. The 143-start drought represented the sixth-longest between wins in NASCAR history; the record belongs to Bill Elliott, who went 226 races between 1994 and 2001.