The call came over the 88's radio about Lap 286. Junior was frantic. "Lance! Lance! Is the race over? Are we in the right place? I don't see nobody ahead of me on the track."
Audible sigh from McGrew. "That's because you're in the lead, Dale."
"The what now?"
Okay, ha ha ha very funny, right? The above conversation didn't happen. (Probably.) What did happen — we know it did because we saw it with our own eyes — was that Junior led 90 laps. It was a combination of fine short-track driving and off-sequence pit strategy that put him in the lead.
Junior couldn't hold the lead; his car got tighter once the sun began setting, and nobody was beating Denny Hamlin or holding off Mark Martin this afternoon. Even so, this was a welcome sight for Junior Nation, even if their emperor isn't completely pleased.
"Well, this isn't quite good enough," Earnhardt said afterward. "We have to run way better than this. I've been coming here ever since I quit wreckin' and we get the right cooling on the front end, I can come in here and get a top-10 unless we have a major major issue in the setup. I feel pretty confident."
Next up: Talladega, another track where Earnhardt has had a bit of success. He's led 672 laps there, third-best for him behind only Martinsville and Bristol. I'm thinking the Chase is probably out of reach, but quality runs at the end of the season would do wonders for a happy 2010 holiday in the Earnhardt camp.