Dale Earnhardt Jr. in All-Star race
CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't need the fan vote this year.
Earnhardt won the Sprint Showdown on Saturday night to pick up a transfer spot into the $1 million All-Star race. His exemption from his 2000 victory expired last year, and NASCAR's most popular driver needed fans to vote him into the All-Star race in 2011.
This time, he just dominated the 40-lap qualifier to take a spot in the main event.
"I feel real fortunate to have drove my way into the All-Star race," Earnhardt said. "My fans work hard to vote, and I never assume that I'm going to win the vote. The fan support is a gift and I never take it for granted. We feel real lucky to have an opportunity to race. We're going to enjoy it having earned our way in this year."
Pole-sitter AJ Allmendinger had a flat tire headed to the green flag, and was forced to pit at the start of the race. But he drove through the field and passed Jamie McMurray right before the white flag to earn the second transfer position.
Allmendinger, in his first season with Penske Racing with the team that won this race in 2010 with Kurt Busch, praised his crew for changing his tire fast enough that he didn't go a lap down.
"Everybody in the 22 car is used to winning and being in this race; I wasn't going to let them down," Allmendinger said. "I was going to do everything I could to get into (the All-Star race) or I was going to wreck trying."
Bobby Labonte finished 12th, but because Earnhardt didn't need the fan vote, he won it based on being the second-highest vote getter. It was a bonus for the 2000 NASCAR champion, who had not even planned on running in the Showdown.
"Two weeks ago, we really weren't even going to show up because this is not in our budget to run this race," said Labonte, who drives for single-car team JTG-Daugherty Racing.
"Thank the fans for doing that. That is a great honor, obviously. I've been doing this a long time, and always try to do the right thing. That's where it pays off."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press