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Earnhardt gets big win in Chicagoland

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) - Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun his tires while the sellout crowd of about 100,000 howled in approval. Through the clouds of thick, white smoke, it was clear to see that this victory was a long time coming.

''I was worried I was going to go winless this year,'' Earnhardt said. ''Now, let's go out and do it again, win some more.''

Earnhardt took the USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday and ended a nearly season-long slump. It was the 16th victory of his career, and his first since last November in Phoenix.

''Early in the race, I figured we had a top 10 car and then, with the adjustments we made, it was a pretty good top five car,'' Earnhardt said. ''It was a pretty good race for us and I wasn't even thinking about winning it until those last 10 or so laps.''

The jubilant Earnhardt celebrated his first win of the year by smoking the tires of his No. 8 Chevrolet and hugging crew members in the infield grass.

''It's been a long time coming, man,'' Earnhardt said. ''It's a lot of emotion, more than I can handle right now. For these guys, all the darts they've had thrown at them this year. It's just awesome. I thought we had a top-10, maybe a top-five car. My guys on pit road won the race for me. Got me out front with two tires.''

To get the win, Earnhardt and his team had to beat dominating Matt Kenseth with late-race strategy. Kenseth led 176 of the 267 laps on the 1 1/2-mile oval, but wound up second after choosing to change four tires and falling behind on his final pit stop.