"Those last 15 laps were the longest laps ever," Earnhardt said.
Earnhardt already had 11 top-10 finishes this season and was second in the points standings entering this race. But after another close run at Pocono, the questions kept coming about his dry spell.
That's now over.
"Dale had the fastest car all day," Stewart said. "It's not a national holiday, guys. This morning they were celebrating his fourth anniversary of his last win, so I guess we're all in a state of mourning now, because he's broke that string now, so I don't know what we're all supposed to think."
Earnhardt remains second to Matt Kenseth in the standings.
Earnhardt's 143 races between wins was the sixth-longest streak in Sprint Cup history.
Like his last victory in Michigan, this one came on Father's Day fitting for the driver whose father has been so revered around NASCAR circles. Dale Earnhardt Sr. died in a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. "Junior" is now stock-car racing's most popular driver a fact not lost on him in the moments after the win.
"To do it for my fans they stuck behind me for all these years. I know exactly what they've been thinking about and how long they've been wanting us to get to Victory Lane," Earnhardt said. "This was for them. I appreciate their loyalty and their support. We wouldn't have made it back to Victory Lane without it."
Earnhardt moved past pole-winner Marcos Ambrose on lap 70 to take the lead, and although Stewart would lead for a bit, Earnhardt was in front again not long after the race's halfway point.
Earnhardt led on lap 171, after a pitting cycle. With 25 laps remaining, he was ahead by 1.978 seconds. With 10 remaining, he had built a 5.468-second cushion.
The end was almost anticlimactic and it was certainly a relief for Earnhardt.
After finally winning, Earnhardt stopped in front of the grandstand and spun his wheels in front of thousands of fans who were on their feet screaming.
It was the 19th Cup victory of Earnhardt's career and second in 159 starts for Hendrick Motorsports. He had 17 victories in 291 races for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Kenseth finished third in the race, which included eight cautions for 39 laps.
Earnhardt led for 95 laps. Nobody else led more than 38.