NASCAR Earnhardt Jr. ends slump with Bristol win



He led 295 of the 500 laps for his first Nextel Cup win at the track.
BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. found the perfect cure for his struggling team's ills: Winning.
Earnhardt broke out of a six-week slump Saturday night with a convincing victory in the Sharpie 500, giving him a weekend sweep at Bristol Motor Speedway and momentum for the upcoming championship chase.
Almost completely healed from burns he suffered last month in a non-NASCAR wreck, Earnhardt led 295 of the 500 laps for his first Nextel Cup win at Bristol. He'll stick the trophy right next to the one he earned Friday night for winning his first Busch series race on the 0.533-mile bullring.
Beat Newman at finish
He beat Ryan Newman to the finish line in a race that didn't shake up the championship standings as much as predicted.
Newman, fighting to become eligible for NASCAR's 10-race championship chase, moved into contention by jumping three spots to the cutoff position of 10th. It came at the expense of rookie Kasey Kahne, who finished 21st and fell to 11th in standings.
It was the only major change in the standings as drivers scramble to make it into the top 10 with just two races to go before the playoffs begin.
Kahne is 26 points out of the top 10 and Jeremy Mayfield, his teammate, is right behind in 12th place in the standings. But time is running out on the Evernham Motorsports pair, and everyone else behind them, too.
The name of the game now is putting together solid runs and getting teams in sync right before the chase begins. Jimmie Johnson did it by ending his streak of three straight DNF's with a third-place finish.
But it was Junior who made the loudest statement by pulling off a win when almost everyone -- including himself -- had written the team off.
"This team is tough as nails!" he screamed. "Man, we needed this. This is one of the biggest wins of my career, we were struggling, and you're going to have that.
"You can't be No. 1 all the time. That's what makes it sweeter."
Fifth anniversary
The win came on the fifth anniversary of the late Dale Earnhardt's final Bristol victory. He earned it by knocking Terry Labonte out of the lead on the final lap of the race, a move that earned the popular driver a chorus of boos in Victory Lane.
The crowd's reaction was much different for this Earnhardt, who delighted them with a series of burnouts and was treated to deafening cheers when he got out of his car.
Jeff Burton finished fourth in his new Richard Childress-owned ride. Elliott Sadler was fifth, followed by Sterling Marlin and Jamie McMurray.
Kurt Busch, who won the past three Bristol races, finished eighth -- one lap down. Matt Kenseth was ninth and Dale Jarrett 10th.

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