Earnhardt pulls away late for 2nd win of season
LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to find his mobile device. He had saved a photo of himself standing next to the scoring pylon — a smile on his face, his index finger raised to flash No. 1 and, even better, the No. 88 lit up atop the leaderboard — and he wanted to share it with Junior Nation.
Hours after taking the checkered flag, Earnhardt followed through on his promise to post the picture to more than 680,000 followers on Twitter.
″#JrNation, @poconoraceway is ours today. What a win! I hope you all enjoyed today as much as I did. We won! We won!” he tweeted.
He sure did. And he’s starting to make a habit of collecting checkered flags.
Earnhardt spun Brad Keselowski’s trash into Victory Lane treasure, pulling away down the stretch Sunday at Pocono Raceway for his second win of the season and a sure spot in the Chase field.
He paired his first career win at Pocono with his Daytona 500 championship for his first multi-win season since 2004.
“I feel like I’m such a lucky guy to have this second opportunity again to be competitive,” Earnhardt said.
As strong as Earnhardt ran in the No. 88 Chevrolet, Keselowski gift-wrapped the win when he yielded the lead with five laps left in a desperate attempt to clear debris from his grille and cool his overheated engine.
Keselowski’s gamble backfired — he couldn’t get the draft needed from the lapped traffic to clear his car and make one final pass on Earnhardt for the win. Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford still had the oomph in the engine needed to finish the race, and he had his second-straight runner-up finish.
“It was definitely a mistake because the engine made it,” Keselowski said, rubbing his face. “It probably shouldn’t have.”
Junior shook off the rising red gauges in the No. 88 that could have had his car meet a similar fate.
“They were still within good reason to stand on it and give it hell,” he said.
Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and rookie Kyle Larson completed the top five.
Earnhardt gave Hendrick Motorsports four straight wins, following Jeff Gordon at Kansas and Jimmie Johnson’s victories at Charlotte and Dover. Johnson overcame a pit road accident to finish sixth.
Earnhardt’s second win means he is guaranteed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. He won for the 29th time in 519 career Sprint Cup starts.
“When we won at Daytona, man, it made the rest of the year a lot more relaxing, a lot easier,” he said. “It makes it fun because you can just go to the track and just race, not worry about points.”
Here are five other things of note from Pocono Raceway:
SHR’S DAY: Kurt Busch posted his first top-10 since his win at Martinsville nine races ago. He salvaged a rough day for Stewart-Haas Racing that saw fellow drivers Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick drop from contention with various issues. Stewart held the lead and was in great position late to win until he was busted for speeding on pit road and was dropped to 31st. Harvick was running second when had tire trouble. Stewart finished 13th, Harvick 14th, and Danica Patrick was 37th after she smacked the wall with 22 laps left. Stewart blamed himself for coughing up the lead. “I don’t know how I got through the (dashboard) lights like I did, but I got to where I blew through all the lights and didn’t have any on the (tachometer) so I had no clue that I was over it. I gave my guys grief last week with a sixth-place run when I thought we should have run in the top-three. Then I threw it away this week.”
LARSON’S MASTERY: Kyle Larson mastered Pocono in no time. The NASCAR rookie led four laps and finished a solid fifth a day after he won the ARCA race on the 2½-mile tri-oval track. Larson struggled this season adapting to shifting, and blew out several transmissions in his Chip Ganassi Racing cars. He’s not quite a skilled shifter yet, though Sunday showed he’s getting there. “I did miss a couple of shifts,” he said, laughing. “Just twice, which is a lot better than it probably should have been if I didn’t practice shifting a whole lot.”
JOHNSON’S STREAK: Johnson’s bid for a third straight victory was derailed when he connected on pit road with Marcos Ambrose. Coming off wins in the Coca-Cola 600 and at Dover, Johnson was fifth when he pitted under yellow. Johnson hit Ambrose and spun 180-degrees, which forced him to back into his stall for more repairs. He needed two tires, had right-front damage and dropped to 29th on the restart. Johnson is a six-time champion for a reason and overcame the mishap to finish sixth. “I was scared to death I was going to hurt someone,” he said. “From there we just went to work and do what the No. 48 does best and grind it out.”
TRUEX STREAK: Martin Truex Jr. may have found his groove in his first season at Furniture Row Racing. He followed his sixth-place finish at Dover with a ninth at Pocono, his first back-to-back top-10s this season. He has only one other top-10. Truex brushed the wall at one point to set him back, though a nice recovery seemed to go along with the one he’s made at the finish line. “We had top-10 cars all year, but we were not able to finish races,” Truex said. “The last two weeks we finished the races and got some decent results. We’re gaining, but still have a ways to get to where we want to be.”
JUMP INTO NASCAR: No, Pocono didn’t double as a Hollywood movie lot. But that really was Hollywood heavyweights Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill at the track, a nice get in a season when celebrity star power had been missing at the track (sorry, Larry the Cable Guy). Danica Patrick hit 140 mph in the pace car with the “22 Jump Street” stars riding along to add to the star power. “My left ear is ringing from Jonah screaming in the backseat,” Tatum said.