Earnhardt Jr. capitalizes at Pocono Raceway
Photo by Getty Images / Used with permission.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates in victory lane. Earnhardt Jr. led 11 laps Sunday to
capture his first win at Pocono Raceway.
LONG POND, Pa.—Some people say that luck is the combination of preparation, and opportunity, and that’s exactly what got Dale Earnhardt, Jr to victory on Sunday afternoon in the Pocono 400.
Two drivers led more laps than the No. 88 car, but Earnhardt Jr. led the most important one, the final one. The win, his 21st NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, locks himself into the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, giving himself his first multi-win season since 2004.
Brad Keselowski, who led a race high 97 laps, lost the race lead with three laps to go in a decisive move to try and remove debris off his grille by pulling behind the lapped car of Danica Patrick.
Green flag runs, green flag pit stops, and not a lot of passing were sights at the track Sunday.
The lap 61 debris caution in the middle of green flag pit stops changed the way the rest of the field approached the race, with ten drivers who were yet to pit.
Strategy calls came into play among those ten, including early favorite Denny Hamlin, who never seemed to be able to recover from the loss of track position.
During the race, it was evident that the only passing for the lead was occurring on restarts and clean air and track position was still king.
Tony Stewart seemed to have righted his ship, and was the favorite to win.
A caution for oil on the track on lap 117 shook things up for Stewart, and the rest of his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, as Stewart was caught speeding down pit road, and Kevin Harvick had to pit twice due to a flat tire. After the stops, Stewart was 31st and Harvick was 32nd. With how little passing there was in the race, and with 37 laps to go, it was clear their chances of winning were all but over.
Off of that restart, Brad Keselowski got out to a big lead, and once again showed that he had the best shot to win when his car was in the lead.
After a restart off of the final caution, Brad Keselowski muscled his way around Dale Earnhardt, Jr after he chose the outside lane on the restart and it looked like Keselowski was on his way to win. During the final run to the finish, it became obvious that something was attached to the grill of Brad’s car, and his water temperature started climbing. If it got too hot, his motor would blow, and his day would be over.
On lap 157, Brad sees the lap car of Danica Patrick coming into view, and decided he could use her car, to get close to it, and hopefully get the debris off of his grille. As he did that, he got sucked to the outside with her car, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to get around Keselowski and go on to win the Pocono 400.
For Earnhardt Jr., it was his first career Pocono win, and he felt good about that.
“We had a really good car in practice yesterday, felt pretty comfortable… and it just really comes down to who was going to be leading on that last restart,” Earnhardt Jr. said.
The win locked Earnhardt Jr. into the Chase, and he was asked if having two wins in the season would affect the way he approached the rest of the season.
“Oh yeah, we started out the season when we won at Daytona, man, it made the rest of the year a lot more relaxing, a lot easier, a lot less stress and it makes it fun because you can just go to the racetrack and just race and not worry about points,” Earnhardt Jr. said.
Brad Keselowski lost the race and he was very dejected in the post-race press conference, where he made sure his team got the credit they deserved for a strong car.
“Well first off, proud of the speed we had today. The guys did a great job… I was trying to do something to help my car out; I knew it was going to break,” Keselowski said.
Some have to wonder though if Brad had not gotten the win earlier this season in Las Vegas, if he would have done something differently at the end of the race, being that he is already locked in the Chase, if maybe he would let the car run instead of trying to get the debris off.
“No, I ran it like I would have ran it no matter what,” Keselowski said. “It was going to break and I thought I had a shot to clean it off and not lose time and I misjudged it.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Michigan next weekend. The two mile oval has been very kind to the Ford camp in recent years, as they have won the last three races there. There’s a good chance that Brad Keselowski could get redemption this weekend because Ford has dominated here, and Joey Logano won this race last fall.
Also, Dale Earnhardt, Jr has won there twice in recent year with a win in 2008 and in 2012. He also could win back-to-back races for the first time in his career.