Four Score For Junior

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. made NASCAR Winston Cup history Sunday becoming the first driver to win four straight races at Talladega Superspeedway with a thrilling victory in the Aaron's 499.

Earnhardt had to start last after changing an engine after Saturday's Happy Hour practice and was also part of a massive 27 car accident on lap 27. But the Budweiser Chevrolet was its usual dominant self when it needed to be and Earnhardt held off Kevin Harvick and the rest of the field for the historic win.

Earnhardt led nine times for 34 laps in a race in which there was a total of 43 lead changes among 16 drivers.

Elliott Sadler, Ricky Craven and Terry Labonte rounded out the Top 5. Sterling Marlin, Ward Burton, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Robby Gordon completed the first ten finishers.

Earnhardt's win broke Buddy Baker's record for consecutive wins at the mammoth 2.66-mile superspeedway and tied Bill Elliott's Winston Cup mark for consecutive victories at one race track.

"That was some of the hardest racing I've seen here in a long time," Earnhardt said. "There ain't too many (drivers) ever won four races here, period," Earnhardt said. "I'm stepping into some awful big shoes."

Earnhardt dodged a big bullet with three laps to go when he went below the yellow "out of bounds" line passing Kenseth for what turned out to be the winning move. NASCAR ruled the move legal and that he was forced below the line through no fault of his own and allowed the pass without a black flag.

The 27 car melee nearly wiped out more than half the field on lap four. It started when Ryan Newman cut a tire on his ALLTEL Dodge racing through turns three and four. Newman shot up the race track and into the middle of the field. Before it was over the likes of Rusty Wallace, Bobby Labonte, Ricky Rudd, Jimmy Spencer, Johnny Benson and Jerry Nadeau were sidelined.

"I think about 20 of us are in the garage right now and that's upsetting," Wallace said. "I really didn't think this was going to happen today.

"I started out with a good feeling because I really believe we all have a little more experience, we're a little smoother and have more respect for this type of racing. But it didn't work out."

Earnhardt slipped through the accident with minimal damage. He did wind up pitting 17 times during the race for repairs as well as fuel and tires.

The victory moved Earnhardt to second in the Winston Cup point standings 129 behind leader Kenseth. Kurt Busch is third 187 out of the lead.

The Winston Cup Series now heads to Martinsville Speedway for next Sunday's Virginia 500.

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