The Hendrick Motorsports driver went past Brad Keselowski with five laps remaining at the Pocono Raceway.
Keselowski (Team Penske) had looked likely to clinch the win, but his car began overheating late in the race and Earnhardt capitalised.
He had led 95 of the 160 laps and ended up finishing second, ahead of Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing).
“The difference between running fourth at the end of this race and running second is a very small thing,” Earnhardt said.
“In years past, it was someone else seizing the opportunity. We’d be third or fourth, watching it happen.
Hendrick Motorsports’ Jeff Gordon (498 points) remains top of the Sprint Cup standings, clear of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth (482).
Earnhardt (476), another Hendrick Motorsports driver in Jimmie Johnson (475) and Keselowski (448) round out the top five.
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