Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sweeps Pocono for Third Win of 2014

Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Victory Lane at Pocono, Aug. 3, 2014
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs  
In an action-packed day at Pocono, race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. credits his crew chief’s judgment calls as key to his victory.

“What it came down to was Steve’s strategy," Earnhardt Jr. said, "He pulled us onto pit road about four laps short of our window to go ahead and put four tires on and fill it up.”

Four laps later when a caution flew, they did what Earnhardt Jr. called a “two-second” final pit stop for fuel only and then leap-frogged a lot of other drivers.

Restarting after the final caution with four laps to go, Earnhardt Jr. held on to bring home his third checkered flag of the season and a broom to mark his Pocono sweep. Denny Hamlin, in 2006, was the last driver to sweep Pocono.

Earnhardt Jr. wields his broom.
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
Earnhardt Jr. talked about the final restart and going nose-to-nose with Kevin Harvick.

“I was anticipating him being right there on the inside going into Turn 1,” he said. “I was just going to have to really get brave and drive it down in there and pray for it to stick. I drove it in there and we were able to clear him somehow.”

Harvick finished second, with Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle making up the top five.

The GoBowling 400 started with a “strike,” as Joey Logano rolled past polesitter Kyle Larson to take the lead. Seconds later, Brad Keselowski got sideways after contact with Kurt Busch, and his skilled save brought gasps from crews on pit road watching on the big screen.

Celebrating with the checkered flag.
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
Jimmie Johnson needed a spare today, with tire issues ruining his day. He smacked the wall on Lap 8, cutting a tire, but he recovered, working his way into the top five before the midpoint. But what seemed like a second tire problem sent him into the Turn 2 wall, resulting in a trip to the garage.

Kyle Busch had early engine trouble, rolling his No. 18 to pit road as smoke filled the cockpit, forcing the team to push it to the garage. Next, Landon Cassill scraped the wall in Turn 2, radioing in that his power steering was gone, and his car had to be pushed off the track.

Midway through the race, Jeff Gordon added two more feathers to his cap, becoming the first driver to lead 1,000 laps at Pocono Raceway and reaching 24,000 career laps led in the Sprint Cup Series.


Crew chief Steve Letarte celebrates in Victory Lane.
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
The last half of the race got dicey when the No. 11 car of Denny Hamlin got loose and bobbled as Clint Bowyer went by him. Although Hamlin recovered, Brian Vickers was running behind him and took evasive maneuvers, triggering a 13-car pileup. Tony Stewart’s car came to rest propped on the No. 27 car of Paul Menard, but everyone was okay.

Rookies Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon finished 11th and 15th, respectively. Larson sits seven points ahead of Dillon in the points standings.

To see the complete unofficial finishing order, click here.

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