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Monday, June 18, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ends NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winless streak at 143 | Auto racing

By The Associated Press

BROOKLYN, Mich. — After four years and 143 races — the agonizing near-misses and all those questions about when he might finally win again at NASCAR's highest level — Dale Earnhardt Jr. was alone in his car, seemingly comfortably ahead of the field.

"That was the worst feeling, riding around there with 15 laps to go, wondering what was going to happen — how you were going to lose," Earnhardt said. "Those laps couldn't go by fast enough."

There was no falling short this time.

Earnhardt held on at Michigan International Speedway for his first Sprint Cup Series victory since 2008. He did it in convincing fashion, beating runner-up Tony Stewart by 5.393 seconds Sunday. When the No. 88 Chevrolet crossed the finish line, Earnhardt ended a streak of 143 Cup races without a victory and gave his legions of fans a reward for all their support — and patience.

"They stayed loyal," the 37-year-old Earnhardt said. "As soon as I got out of the car, that was my initial thought — was about how many people were in their living rooms screaming at the top of their lungs, or running out in the yard, or whatever they do."

Earnhardt's previous trip to victory lane in a Cup race was June 15, 2008, at MIS and snapped a 76-race winless streak.

Earnhardt was sweating out the finish of the 200-lap Quicken Loans 400, his 19th career Cup victory.

"I was in there just going crazy," he said. "I just knew I was going to come around the next corner and see a piece of metal laying in the racetrack. I just was waiting on something to happen. That was terrifying."

A somewhat sarcastic Stewart said, "It's not a national holiday, guys."

Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., finished fourth and is third in the Cup standings, 17 points behind leader Matt Kenseth and 13 behind Earnhardt.

Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw placed 33rd of 43 after a wreck on Lap 126.

Notes

• Defending champions Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer combined to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans and give Audi its 11th title in the endurance race in France.

• Seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher ended a 32-race winless streak in the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway in Tennessee.

Ron Capps topped the Funny Car field and Mike Edwards won the Pro Stock competition.

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