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One moment

All NASCAR fans remember the scene.

Terry Labonte had led 155 laps at Bristol that night and was about to make it 156. He was less than a half-mile away from his second win of the season and third career triumph at Bristol.

Then Dale Earnhardt, one of the greatest race car drivers of all time, wrecked him.

Earnhardt drove on to victory that August night back in 1999 and was roundly, loudly and enthusiastically booed by the capacity crowd in Tennessee.

It was among the later defining moments of Earnhardt's career. Both loved and hated, both worshipped and loathed by NASCAR fans. Earnhardt had triumphed, yet again, but the NASCAR world didn't approve of how.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. perhaps never had a moment like that.

Until Saturday at Michigan, that is.

During a green-white-checkers finish in Saturday's Busch Series event, race leader Carl Edwards got a little loose and drifted up the track in front of Earnhardt Jr.

It was late, and points mattered little – at least to Junior. He was racing for a win.

Junior didn't let up at all. Instead, he got into the back of Edwards' No. 60 Busch car and stayed there, causing Edwards to spin and bring out a race-ending caution, making Earnhardt Jr. the winner.

And then it happened.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the most popular driver in NASCAR today, typically the most well-represented by fans at the track when it comes to cheers, choice of beer and wardrobe, actually was booed.

No, the disapprovals didn't come close to matching the level his father faced at Bristol roughly seven years ago, and the Junior die-hards made plenty of noise applauding their driver for his second Busch victory of the season in just four starts.

But even still, the boos easily could be heard. First when Junior drove into victory lane. Then when he climbed out of his car and was interviewed. And then again when he was shown on the big screen at Michigan during subsequent interviews.

Each time, it seemed the boos grew louder.

And just like that, even if only temporary, in a moment of semi-collective disapproval, NASCAR's favorite son was no longer that.

That he wrecked one of NASCAR's more popular drivers in Edwards certainly didn't help, and that he was rewarded for his efforts with a win only added to the crowd's level of angst.

"I didn't mean to spin him out," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I don't go around wrecking people."

This much certainly has proved to be true over the course of Earnhardt Jr.'s career. Though on Saturday, intent – or lack thereof – apparently did not matter to the fans.

Still, this was just a Busch event – certainly not on par with the Bristol night race, which is one of the biggest shows on the Cup schedule. And yes, Edwards is racing for the Busch championship, but it's one he realistically has no shot at winning, thanks to Kevin Harvick.

That didn’t assuage Edwards, who drove back on track and whacked the side of Earnhardt's car under caution in a display of frustration.

"I just wanted to make sure that he knew I was mad that he wrecked me," Edwards said.

But unless there is some sort of probation (doubtful) or additional retaliation from Edwards (somewhat unlikely) attached to the incident, it already is over and done with.

Come Sunday, Junior most likely will again dominate driver introductions when it comes to positive crowd response, though some boo-birds may make themselves heard. But the story will return to Junior's – and Edwards', for that matter – efforts to make the Chase, and the charismatic 31-year-old Kannapolis, N.C., native once again will be the golden child.

After all, his fans happily, loyally stuck by him during his struggles last season, continuing to routinely rain adoration supreme upon him each and every race weekend. And during his NASCAR career, including his Busch championship-winning days, it seems virtually every Earnhardt Jr. win has been immensely popular.

This one was not. And Junior knows it.

"We've got a great core of fans, but that's definitely going to divide them right down the middle," he said of the incident.

For just one day, for one moment, Dale Earnhardt Jr. showed he can indeed do wrong – even if he wasn't trying to wreck anyone, even if he simply was racing hard for the win, trying to do right by his team.

Junior only did what he had to do to win the race. It's exactly what his father did before him.

His father also was one of the most popular drivers in the history of the sport.

And among its biggest villains.

But that status can't be a fate that awaits Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Can it?