By Anthony Rhoads
After rolling a snake eyes last week in Las Vegas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the jackpot Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt Jr. passed Jeremy Mayfield with 15 laps to go and held on to win the Golden Corral 500, his first Atlanta victory.
The victory was a complete turnaround over last week's disastrous run in Las Vegas, where he was plagued by mechanical problems and finished 35th.
"We had a terrible, terrible, terrible race in Vegas," he said. "We were beat up with our heads down. I wanted to get as far away from that race in Vegas as fast as I could. Coming here, I was hoping it wouldn't be another disaster."
Sunday's race was far from a disaster.
Earnhardt Jr. started in Sunday's race in seventh place and ran consistently all day, rarely falling outside the top 10.
Earnhardt Jr. said the car wasn't perfect but the crew made adjustments and put him in position to win. He led just 55 laps but came through when it counted to earn the 11th win of his career.
It was Earnhardt's second victory of the season, his first coming at the Daytona 500.
"From hero to zero and back to hero," Earnhardt said. "I'm determined to race like this every week."
Earnhardt Jr. continues a family tradition at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
He follows in the footsteps of his father, who was the winningest driver at the track, winning nine races with his last victory coming in the spring of 2000. The elder Earnhardt died a year later at Daytona.
"This is a personal victory for me today," Earnhardt Jr. said.
Tony Stewart, the winner of last spring's race in Atlanta, led the most laps with 127 but he came up with a seventh-place finish.
Pole sitter Ryan Newman finished fifth.
"The team did a great job," he said. "The Alltell Dodge was strong. We'll get ?em next week."
Ray Evernham Racing teammates Mayfield and Kasey Kahne placed second and third.
"We've had some decent runs the last couple of weeks but it wasn't what we wanted," Mayfield said. "To come back and have a finish like this is awesome."
Jimmie Johnson took fourth and other top 10 finishers were Matt Kenseth (sixth), Greg Biffle (eighth), Dale Jarrett (ninth) and Jeff Gordon (10th).
Kenseth was able to maintain his season points lead with the top-10 finish. Kenseth was able to bounce back and get a top-10 despite some problems. He spun out on a pit stop and went a lap down after being penalized.
"I'm happy with the overall result considering everything that went wrong," said Kenseth, last year's Winston Cup points champion.
"At the beginning of the race, we had a lot better car than that and I messed it up. It was a good comeback. I made a dumb mistake getting on pit road and we didn't have a lot of cautions to come back from it, so overall, I'm pretty happy with the result."