Earnhardt praises Johnson after Atlanta win

Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service Monday, Feb 29 1217
It didn't dawn on race runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. right away that Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson had tied his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., for seventh on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series all-time victory list.

But Johnson's fifth victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway, in Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, was the 76th of his career, and now he and Earnhardt Sr. will share that mark -- until Johnson wins No. 77.

"It was awesome," said Earnhardt, who in 2007 had watched another soon-to-be teammate, Jeff Gordon, tie and exceed the 76-victory mark. "We talked about it. I told him on a couple occasions that when he tied daddy, he'd better say something cool, and he'd better tell them that it's awesome for him to tie him, because I know Jeff had the (No. 3) flag and all that, so that was awesome when your competitors and peers recognize your father like that.

"I knew this day was coming, but I didn't know it until we got out of the car. I'm glad, if he's going to win and tie that record, I'm certainly glad that I got to run second today."

Though the driving styles of Johnson and Earnhardt Sr. aren't comparable (Earnhardt was vastly more aggressive), Earnhardt Jr. nevertheless was lavish in his praise of his teammate.

"I don't have a problem calling him the best of this generation, even as a competitor of his and having to go out there and race against him," Earnhardt said. "Obviously, he will credit his crew chief (Chad Knaus) and his team.

"That all has been real consistent throughout his career, and they do deserve some credit, but Jimmie is just a phenomenal talent."