Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s dominating victory in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway was obviously hugely popular with his millions of fans, who had waited four long years to see their favorite driver triumph.
It was also popular with his peers, both his fellow drivers at Hendrick Motorsports and his rivals in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
“I just couldn’t be more happy for my teammate,” said five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who shares a garage with Earnhardt at Hendrick. “... I know how hard he’s been working on this and how bad he’s wanted it and how good this is going to make him feel, the confidence it’s going to give he and that race team for the rest of the year and for some time to come.”
Johnson had a good run himself at Michigan, finishing fifth. But the day clearly belonged to Earnhardt.
“Junior’s been chipping away at it and been so close to victory,” said Johnson. “And I’m really happy for him and for Stevie (Letarte, crew chief). What we have going on at Hendrick Motorsports in the 48/88 shop is really special and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved.”
Jeff Gordon finished sixth in his Hendrick Chevrolet and was especially pleased because Letarte is his former crew chief. “What a great day for Hendrick Motorsports and Junior and Stevie and all those guys on the 88 team,” Gordon said. “I’m so proud of them. Proud of my guys, too. We fought hard to come from 28th. It was not easy.”
Roush Fenway Racing drivers Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle finished third and fourth, respectively, at Michigan. They, too, applauded Earnhardt.
“Congratulation to Dale Jr., they’ve just been running awesome this year,” said Kenseth, buddies with Earnhardt since the two raced in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the late 1990s. “Nice to see him standing over there in Victory Lane.”
“I’m very excited for Junior,” added Biffle. “What a great day for him to win on. There’s been a lot of pressure on him and he’s a great driver. I’m so glad he won.”
The one driver who didn’t have much of a reaction was Michigan runner-up Tony Stewart. Asked how he felt about Earnhardt winning, the three-time and defending Spring Cup champion broke out his well-known deadpan humor.
“No different to anybody else that does it,” Stewart said. “It's not a national holiday, guys. This morning, they were celebrating his fourth anniversary of his last win, so I guess we are all in a state of mourning now because he's broke that streak now, so I don't know what we are all supposed to think.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.