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From the Marbles

Despite transmission trouble, Dale Earnhardt Jr. maintains the points lead

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s streak of lead-lap finishes ended on Sunday, but thanks to some late-race carnage, his point lead remains. Albeit barely.

Junior started eighth and quickly chased down front-row starters Denny Hamlin and Juan Pablo Montoya, taking the lead on Lap 11 and pulling away to a lead that was eventually wiped out due to Kyle Busch's run-in with the Turn 1 wall.

He retook the lead after pit stops cycled through after the caution, and though he was run down by teammate Jimmie Johnson on Lap 39, it was apparent that Junior had one of the day's better cars and, barring any trouble, looked poised to extend his streak of lead-lap finishes in the Sprint Cup Series to 22, breaking Jeff Gordon's mark that he tied last week.

However, as he exited the pits following his second pit stop on Lap 48, Junior went to put his car in top gear when the transmission broke on the backstretch. Without third and fourth gear, the hopes of a good finish, let alone a lead-lap one, were as whole as the transmission itself. And seemingly, so were his chances at keeping the points lead that he inherited from Matt Kenseth last week at Indianapolis. Junior returned to the track 19 laps down and Kenseth was running in the top five and was second on the race's final restart.

But the contact between Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson as they battled for the lead kept Junior on top of the points standings. As Kenseth got into the wall and was clobbered by Denny Hamlin, he ended up 23rd in the final standings, just nine spots ahead of Earnhardt.

That means Junior is atop the Sprint Cup mountain for a second straight week — this time by five points over Kenseth. Yeah, it's a lead that's likely to disappear in five weeks unless Junior grabs a couple (or more) wins, but enjoy it while it lasts, Junior Nation.

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