By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
There are times when Cup Series regulars ruin the show by dropping down into the lower tiers, but sometimes they create a moment that is remembered for years to come.
In this week’s “Throwback Thursday Theater”, we take a jump back to the 2006 Carfax 250 at Michigan that seemed to be another run of the mill race at the two-mile track until the action picked up with the closing laps and post-race activities.
Through the first 95 laps, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards had been the stars of the show as they led a combined 58 laps, with Busch leading 36 of those. 11 other drivers had lead a handful of laps at that point in the race, but Busch and Edwards were the cars to beat.
A new contender emerged at lap 95 in Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driving the No. 8 car, as he went to the front just prior to a caution for Cale Gale on lap 102.
Under the lap 102 caution, the field headed for pit road, with Robby Gordon, driving for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports team, leading after pit stops courtesy of a two tire stop while others elected for four tires. When the race went back green on lap 106, Gordon took off like a rocket, leading his car owner Earnhardt and Edwards.
Gordon and Earnhardt battled side-by side for the lead lap after lap with Edwards waiting in the wings to make his move to the lead. That opportunity came heading into Turn 1 on lap 118 as Edwards dove low on Earnhardt and Gordon and flew by both of them in a three-wide pass.
Just as Edwards made it into the lead, the yellow flag flew once more, this time for Kurt Busch in an accident in Turn 4, ending the day for the driver who had led the most laps at that point in the race.
The race restarted with five laps to go and this go around it was Edwards pulling away from Gordon and the remainder of the field. Just as Edwards had a comfortable lead and looked to be well on the way to victory, the yellow flag was displayed once more with two laps to go due to the stalled No. 06 car of Todd Kluever on the backstretch. The yellow flag for Kluever would set up a green-white-checkered finish with Edwards, Gordon, and Earnhardt as the top-three drivers to battle it out.
Once the race went back to green for the one attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, Edwards pulled out ahead of Gordon and Earnhardt heading into Turn 1. Edwards took the high line, with Gordon running the low line and Earnhardt coming with a head of steam behind Edwards up high.
As the three came off of Turn 2 with two laps to go, Earnhardt made contact with Edwards, who had gotten a bit loose at that point on the track, sending Edwards spinning across the nose of Gordon’s car and into the inside wall.
The spin brought out the final caution, which froze the field, making Earnhardt the winner of the race, as he was ahead of all other drivers when the caution flag flew. Casey Mears was scored in second as he got by Gordon before the caution was out.
Just as the field crossed the finish line, Edwards parked right in front of Earnhardt’s pit in dispute of the move and then he came flying off pit road Days of Thunder style and ran into the side of Earnhardt’s car as he had his hand out the window.
“Man, I was having a good time racing,” Edwards said. “Our Henkel guys did a great job and he just wrecked me off of (Turn) 2. I just wanted to make sure that he knew that I was mad that he wrecked me, but, oh well, that’s just racing.”
When asked if he had gotten loose just prior to contact from Earnhardt, Edwards jokingly said: “We broke something…I think it was traction.”
Normally the crowd at any given track is decidedly pro-Earnhardt, but on that day in Michigan, just as many, if not more boos rained down on Earnhardt as he exited his car in victory lane. The scene was reminiscent of the boos that Dale Earnhardt, Sr. received after spinning Terry Labonte to win at Bristol in the late 90’s.
“That was a little crazy,” said Earnhardt. “I know Carl is really mad. We got a run off of that corner and he was sideways and I don’t know if he was going to hit the wall or whatever, but he just checked up and we got into the back end of him. I’m sure he’s mad and thinks we wrecked him on purpose, but it was the last lap or second to last lap. We were racing pretty hard there and even if I would have gotten disqualified the 88 would have won anyway, so it would have been a good deal either way.”
Earnhardt also had a response to Edwards running into his car after the race and didn’t appreciate what Edwards had done.
“I had my hand out of the window after the race and he could have taken my hand off. Luckily, he didn’t, but that was pretty stupid. I’ve seen him do it before so I should have known.”