Dale Earnhardt Jr. Takes Advantage of Brad Keselowski Misfortune to Win at Pocono
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back in victory lane. No, it is not on a restrictor plate track either. Earnhardt Jr. was able to hold off Brad Keselowski for his second victory of the 2014 season after taking the lead with five laps to go. Even though Keselowski led 95 laps during the Pocono 400, he was not able to tame the Tricky Triangle.
With 10 laps to go, Keselowski had debris on his grille and opted to drop behind Earnhardt Jr. in a desperate attempt to cool off his engine. During a post-race press conference, Keselowski said that “it was definitely a mistake” to drop back behind Earnhardt Jr. as he was starting to lose power on the straightaways.
“It’s elusive, man. For any team – it is hard to get that competitive where you can win races. We see teams that get that strong like Jimmie (Johnson) and Chad (Knaus). Chad is really good at putting people together to give Jimmie a lot of chances to win races. Our group has been working together for a number of years now, and each year we saw a progression in performance and we have seen an increase of performance,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a post-race press conference.
“This makes sense to me when I see what we do and how we run – it makes sense to me. It was a logical result in my opinion for this team as we have gotten better each year, and we have been fast every week. We kind of started that towards the middle of last year. We have not peaked as a team. We have not reached our ceiling. We are doing some of our best work right now. We have a lot of passion and there is a lot of emotion after last year, and I think that adds to the drive to the team to do as well as we can. We can be dangerous.”
The victory marks Earnhardt Jr.’s first non-restrictor plate victory since Michigan in 2012, and it is the first time has had recorded more than one win in a season since he won six races in 2004. Entering Sunday’s race at Pocono, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet had never won a race at Pocono – coming up just shy in 2001 and 2007.
“I’ve never had that happen under caution before. I swerved my tires getting ready to go and we were rolling around turn three to take the green and all of a sudden it started sounding weird and we lost some power somewhere and lost,” Keselowski said.
“Oh yeah, we weren’t going to make it. It was already starting to (blow up). It is just one of those deals.
Tony Stewart led at halfway – first race he has led since leading 74 laps at Texas. After leading 24 laps, Stewart won the race off pit road with 40 laps to go during a caution, but he was caught speeding in four different sections which sent him to the tail end of the field.
The majority of the field stayed out of pit road after the second caution – creating two different pit strategies. The drivers that pitted were able to stretch out their fuel mileage as they attempted to make just one more pit stop in the race compared to those who might have had to make two more stops which would put them out of contention.
Harvick blew a tire with 43 laps to go, but the caution flag came out a lap after he pitted. Before the blown tire, he had cut Stewart’s lead to just a second and a half.
“We’ve had plenty of speed in all four cars all weekend. We had one, two or three but never all of them together. A big part of the day, three of them were right in there. The team has done a really good job. They have built really good cars. We just have to figure out how to close the deal,” Stewart-Haas Racing competition director, Greg Zipadelli said after the race.
However, even with all of the inconsistent runs surrounding Stewart-Haas Racing, Kurt Busch was able to capitalize on a solid run with a third-place finish. Busch ran inside of the top-10 throughout the Pocono 400, and led the race for a total of five laps.
“We just swapped around. Each of us were right up in the mix, and that is what we want to see – that our SHR Chevys are up there. Today, for us to finish in the top-10 because Stewart had a penalty speeding on pit road and the No. 4 car had a left front tire go down, and we didn’t have any type of trouble we had to overcome. We cashed in on a top-five finish,” Busch said.
“For each car number, this is the point of the season when we have to build our own identity. For my team, as young as we are, this is the type of finish that will help boost the confidence levels up. The meeting we had this week – we had to say ‘are you willing to step this up? Are you willing to put in the extra hours? Are you willing to go the extra mile to make this happen?’ And everybody said yes. When you cash in on a top-five run after that, it really builds everyone’s self esteem up.”
After entering the race 28th in points, Busch is now 27th with a 71-point gap on 30th place in the standings – Michael Annett.
On Lap 32, a fire started in Turn 3 which was the area that the track launched pre-race fireworks – forcing the first caution of the day after the first set of green flag pit stops. During the restart, Matt Kenseth sustained damage to the front end of his No. 20 Toyota after slamming into Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 car entering Turn 1.
Kasey Kahne was having a top-15 run when his No. 5 car shot into the wall off of Turn 2. Kahne’s battered up Chevrolet then collected Carl Edwards who was trailing right in his path.
“I just passed him and he was pissed off because his car was slow. I didn’t lift. I thought I could pass him back on the straightaway. We had a pretty good Great Clips Chevy,” Kahne said. “It was pretty hard. It hit hard right after the tunnel. He was thinking that I would lift but that was Kyle being Kyle.”
On Lap 73, Johnson was running inside of the top-10 and slammed into Marcos Ambrose’s No. 9 car on pit road during the second caution of the day. Johnson’s No. 48 car received major damage to the right front quarter panel and had to return to pit road. He reported that the right front of the car was “extremely towed out,” and was mired outside of the top-25 after the incident. Johnson briefly took the lead during a green flag pit cycle, but pitted with 50 laps to go.
After finishing eighth on Sunday, Jeff Gordon now retakes the lead back in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings with a 16 point margin over Kenseth. Earnhardt Jr. has now moved up to the third position after entering Pocono fifth in points.
Here are some notables for the Pocono 400:
-Kyle Larson was the highest finishing rookie as he finished in the fifth position after running the ARCA Series Pocono 200 on Saturday afternoon.
- Martin Truex Jr. earned his third straight top-10 finish after finishing 25th or worse in four times in the first 12 events of the year.
-David Ragan earned his best finish of the year – ending the day in the 18th position.
-Travis Kvapil had his best finish of the season as he finished 29th in the No. 32 Ford.
-29 cars finished on the lead lap with three drivers (Kahne, Edwards and Joey Logano) recording DNFs.
-There were 21 lead changes among 10 different drivers.
Joseph Wolkin (@JosephNASCAR) is a sophomore at the Queensborough Community College as an English major. He’s a native of Whitestone, NY, just outside of New York City, and has been attempting to find roots of motorsports within his area since 2004. He started out as just a fan, but over the course of his high school career, he ended up falling in love with writing.
Joseph has been covering NASCAR since 2011 for several different websites. Recently, he was named as one of two lead NASCAR columnists for Rant Sports after working for the site for over one year. Working with Rant Sports for approximately 14 months, Joseph has covered New York City area sports teams such as the New York Giants, New York Mets, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and more.
Through his passion is for NASCAR, Joseph has adapted to changing times and realizes that he has numerous opportunities in the journalism work. As one of the top young sports writers, his goal is to become one of the top motorsports writers of this new digital media era. However, he also believes that it’s important to stick to the traditional routers of print publications after seeing his high school newspaper dissolve due to a lack of funding.
Currently, besides his duties with Speedway Digest, Joseph is a columnist with Fronstretch.com, Motorsport.com and has a weekly article in NASCAR Pole Position's digital version - ROAR! Weekly Race Preview Magazine.
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