MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. roamed around Martinsville Speedway as a child, soaking in the sights and the sounds and the smells while his dad collected six of the treasured grandfather clocks awarded to the winner.
Earnhardt desperately wanted to win at the historic short track, to bring one of those big 'ol clocks home to his house.
In his 30th try, he finally got his clock.
Earnhardt raced to his first Martinsville victory Sunday, a week after he was eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. It was his fourth win of the season, but perhaps the one he treasured most
"This place has a special meaning and a special place in the series and the sport," he said. "I've been coming here since the early '80s, watching races here. Dad won several races here, brought home several clocks. I remember one in particular that set at the front door, in the hall by the stairs. Had this little round rug right in that hallway that I'd run my Matchbox cars on, listening to the race. That clock would ring on the hour.
"I always wanted one. The clock seems so hard to get. This is very personal and very special to me to be able to win here."
It was 10 years ago this weekend that a Hendrick Motorsports plane on its way to the race crashed, killing all 10 on board. Lost on that day were team owner Rick Hendrick's son, brother, twin nieces, the team general manger, head engine builder, a key sponsor representative, two Hendrick pilots and a pilot for Tony Stewart.
So his four drivers try desperately to win at Martinsville for Hendrick, for the organization, for those who died that October day.
It was Earnhardt who pulled it off, with teammate Jeff Gordon right behind him in a 1-2 finish for Hendrick.
Hendrick, who often doesn't decide until race day if he's emotionally able to travel to Martinsville, was present for the win.
"This is an extraordinary man that when all that went down, two days later he was at Hendrick Motorsports speaking to all the employees," Gordon said. "It's just the kind of person that he is. I know it's not easy on him. I really do. I know that it puts extra pressure on us at Hendrick Motorsports when he's here to get that win because it's a way to really pay tribute. It's the ultimate way you can do it."