The long national nightmare is over.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won a Sprint Cup race.
Four years after his last victory, Earnhardt Jr. ended a 143-race winless streak Sunday by winning the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
The crowd, which saw a risky race run under unusual conditions, exploded with joy as Earnhardt Jr. finally kicked to the curb the frustrations that have followed him for years.
Oddly enough, Earnhardt Jr. returned to victory lane in a black car, courtesy of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” sponsorship for the day. And he won on Father’s Day.
Earnhardt clearly had the race’s best car over the final 200 miles.
The race’s first major incident occurred on lap 126 as Joey Logano lost control of his car while passing the slower car of David Gilliland and tagged the outside wall. Kasey Kahne also became involved in the crash.
Seven laps later, the bad vibes for Joe Gibbs Racing continued as Denny Hamlin lost control on a restart and slid onto the inside apron. As he recovered and headed toward pit road, Hamlin’s car burst into flames. He scrambled from the car with the aid of crewmen as safety workers used extinguishers to smother the fire.
The crowd got a charge before the race reached halfway when Earnhardt Jr. surged to the front. Tony Stewart later returned to the lead, but Junior moved around Stewart on the outside to retake first.
Adding to the day’s intrigue was a late start. Morning rain pounded the speedway area, delaying the green flag by two hours and throwing another wacky variable into the thinking of drivers and crew chiefs. The moisture changed the nature of the track surface significantly.
Drivers experienced tire issues on and off during the afternoon.
The day continued a difficult spring for Kyle Busch, who drove into the garage near the race’s halfway point with engine troubles for the third straight week.
And Kurt Busch had a sour return to the track after a week’s suspension. He spun out twice.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.