Earnhardt Jr. Sweeps Pocono
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on August 3, 2014 | 4:19 P.M. EST
Earnhardt Jr. celebrates his 22nd career win NSCS win. (Photo: Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the first driver to sweep Pocono Raceway since 2006 with his win in Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400.
Earnhardt scored his third win of the season and followed up his June victory at Pocono outrunning Kevin Harvick to the checkered flag.
Denny Hamlin was the last driver to sweep at the 2.5-mile track while Earnhardt Jr. scored his first track sweep since he turned the trick at Talladega in 2002.
It was the fifth straight Pocono win for Hendrick Motorsports.
“We definitely went home from the last race and made our car better,” Earnhardt Jr. said “That's what I'm proud of this team for.”
Earnhardt used fuel strategy employed by crew chief Steve Letarte to get out front and then wrestled the lead away from Greg Biffle on a final restart with 14 laps to go to score the win.
“It takes a really, really smart guy to understand what to do to take those gambles,” Earnhardt said of Letarte’s call. “Sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don't.
"We had a fast car all day. Steve's strategy was perfect at the end. I don't know if anyone knew what was going on there, but it was pretty awesome."
Harvick had an up and down day with trips into the wall and a speeding penalty on pit road but did come home second.
"This hasn’t been one of my better race tracks and the cars have been fast both races here," Harvick said. "Today we were able to capitalize on it and get a good finish.”
Joey Logano finished third, followed by Clint Bowyer and Biffle.
Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top ten.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Watkins Glen Int’l next Sunday for the Cheez-It 355.
How Earnhardt won: He was in control thanks to pit strategy that got Earnhardt out front in the final stage of the race. But when caution flew for AJ Allmendinger’s trip into the wall, others tried to steal a win away by staying out rather than pitting including Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. Then Kurt Busch slapped the wall to bring out caution and on the day’s final restart with four laps to go, Earnhardt was able to power by Biffle who had grabbed the top spot and stay ahead of Harvick at the finish line.
What else happened: The day featured a variety of pit strategies that started to play out early in the race and was similar in nature to last week’s Brickyard 400 in Pocono. There was also a threat of rain in the area which may have ramped up the intensity level in the first half of the race, which was highlighted by tight racing throughout the field.
Who else had a good day: Harvick had an adventurous day that included some damage to his car as well as a pit road speeding penalty but was able to get in position for another win before settling for second….Biffle gave Roush Fenway Racing some much-needed excitement when he led late in the race and scored a top-five finish….Hamlin, with interim crew chief Mike Wheeler in for the suspended Darian Grubb, turned in a competitive performance and a top-10 finish.
Who had a bad day: About 13 drivers, who were all involved in a massive pile-up in the closing stages of the race. When the dust settled the likes of Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Brian Vickers, Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger and others were involved in the huge wreck. While nobody was injured there the amount of damaged racecars was reminiscent of a Talladega or Daytona “Big One”……Kyle Busch had no chance to compete when he was knocked out of the race by an engine problem early….Jimmie Johnson had two trips into the wall and finished 39th.
Quote of the day: “I can't believe I fell into this (No. 88) group. I'm just the lucky guy that gets to drive for them,” Earnhardt Jr.
Other notables: Johnson’s finish of 39th gave him an average finish of 34.3 over his last four races….Rookie Kyle Larson started from the pole and came home 11th…….Casey Mears gave Germain Racing a finish of 13th…..Justin Allgaier was involved in the day’s multi-car crash but recovered to finish 16th.