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Sunday, June 17, 2012
Junior's win, by the numbers


Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Michigan win on Sunday did a lot of things for a lot of people.

It stirred up emotions. It set off a firestorm, both in support of his "being back," and of the "one win doesn't mean anything" variety. It also solidified his status as a championship contender.

But, while appreciating the cultural and social impact of the victory, let's also talk about the historical impact of it, namely how much history Junior made.

First of all, a 143-race winless streak wasn't just an eternity for Junior Nation, it was also the sixth-longest stretch a driver has ever gone without a win.

The top four drivers on that list all have something in common. They all changed teams during the winless streak, giving them a chance to basically start over in new equipment.

So Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s streak is second only to Terry Labonte for most starts between wins, all with one team. Labonte's came when he was out of title contention, outside the top 10 and well on the downswing of his career. He has not won another Cup race since and is in semi-retirement.

Junior, on the other hand, is now on the short list of title contenders, with a series-best 12 top-10 finishes in 15 races this season.

Another number is 26. That's the number of different Cup Series winners during Junior's winless streak. That includes eight drivers who picked up their first Sprint Cup Series win, three of whom have gone on to win again. Junior's teammate through the entire ordeal, Jimmie Johnson, leads all drivers with 23 wins in that span.

In one of those 23 Johnson wins, Earnhardt finished second, which brings me to my next number: seven. That's the number of times Earnhardt finished second between his past two wins.

Twice Earnhardt finished second to his former employee at JR Motorsports, Brad Keselowski. At the time of Junior's previous win, June 2008 at Michigan, Keselowski hadn't even made his Sprint Cup Series debut.

Those seven runner-up finishes between wins is also historically significant. Since 1985, only three other drivers had at least seven runner-up finishes between wins: Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Jeremy Mayfield.

In fact, the record for seconds between wins is eight, done by Gordon, Mayfield, Bobby Allison and Bobby Isaac. I'm sure Junior fans remembered each one of those runner-up finishes distinctly, but have let them go Sunday night.

Another number, and perhaps the most important one, may not be able to be measured quite yet, and that's the number of extra viewers, rating points and fans in the seats that this win may create.

As NASCAR prepares to go head-to-head with college and professional football during its championship Chase, it now might be able to play with an extra bullet in the chamber.