Earnhardt Jr. Gets Third Win Of The Season
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
This is the kind of season which many had predicted for Dale Earnhardt Jr. after he joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.
On Sunday at Pocono Raceway, Earnhardt won his third Sprint Cup race of the season. The victory gave him 10 top-five finishes in 21 2014 starts and it moved him ever closer to HMS teammate Jeff Gordon in the point standings.
The victory gave him the Pocono sweep in 2014. His three victories ties him with teammate Jimmie Johnson and Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski for the most in Cup.
“Just proud of the whole team,” Earnhardt said. “As good as Steve (Letarte, his crew chief) is and as great of a crew chief as he is the whole team is that deep. Everybody has got a great personality, everybody is an expert at what they are doing and everybody does a great job at it. I’m real lucky to be a part of it. I can’t thank these guys enough. They have really brought my career around and it is fun to be a part of this.”
Kevin Harvick , who was involved in a big wreck and was also penalized for speeding, finished second .229 seconds back. With his finish, Harvick locked up a Chase berth.
Harvick has ripped his pit crew on several occasions after losses this year. On Sunday, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver ripped himself.
“To not have wrecked my car, you know,” Harvick said, “I got to looking in the mirror on pit road and got myself a speeding there. This hasn’t been one of my best tracks but I just have to thank all my guys on this Mobil 1 Chevy for putting us in position to at least pull some strategy there. Just have to thank everybody from Budweiser, Jimmy John’s, Outback and for everything they do for this car. I made a lot of mistakes today and they made up for it with a fast race car.”
Joey Logano, who led 30 laps, finished third. Clint Bowyer finished fourth and Greg Biffle was fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 were Gordon, who led a race-best 60 laps, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.
Earnhardt led just 14 laps but they were the final 14.
His three wins in the season are the most since he won six in 2004 while driving with the team his father founded – Dale Earnhardt Inc.
After getting out of his car on Sunday, Earnhardt whipped out his cell phone and made a heartfelt phone call to the man who hired him seven years ago.
“That was Rick (Hendrick),” Earnhardt said. “I just thanked him for how he has changed my life and how he has supported me and this whole team and how lucky we are to have the power that we have, the cars that we have. It’s all because of Rick. He just puts great people in the right places and he has a knack for what he is doing. I wanted to thank him and make sure he understood how much I appreciated him even in this time where you kind of forget to thank everybody or you are just happy you won I wanted him to know how much it meant to me that I got the chance to drive this car and we got a win today.”
The list of candidates to win the Pocono race on Sunday was whittled considerably when a big wreck occurred on a restart on Lap 121.LAP 117.
Involved were Aric Almirola, Matt Kenseth, AJ Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers, Justin Allgaier, Hamlin, Michael Annett, Marin Truex Jr., Harvick and Carl Edwards. Among that group, Harvick, Allmendinger, Almirola and Kenseth all led laps in the race.
“I honestly didn’t see it,” Almirola said. “I saw a little bit of smoke in front of me. Cars probably four or five rows in front of me, and I saw a car make a hard right. I don’t even know who it was, but instantly I knew that they were wrecking. I was trying to get low and I was following Keselowski and everybody started to check up. I was on the brakes as hard as I could and I got creamed from behind and pushed into the wreck. There’s nothing you can do when it gets like that, so it was just a big pile up trying to get all we can get on the restarts.”
For Harvick, who was penalized for speeding not long before the wreck, things worked out well. He was brought to the pits where he also took fuel.
That put him out of squence with leader Gordon. It then put him in the lead when Gordon pitted for fuel and tires on Lap 133 of the 160-lap race.
Three laps later, Biffle took the lead from Harvick.
With 21 laps to go, a caution came out when Almendinger hit the wall hard.
That closed up the field as it allowed Earnhardt to erase what had been a huge lead that Biffle and Harvick had because of the pitting strategy.
When the race restarted with 17 laps to go, Biffle had the lead and Harvick was second but both were iffy on fuel.
On the restart, Earnhardt jumped to second place and Bowyer to third.
With 14 laps to go, Earnhardt went low on Biffle and moved past for the lead. Once out front Earnhardt began to pull away. When Earnhardt crossed the start/finish line with 12 to go, his lead was 1.5 seconds.
The lead was over 2 seconds when a caution came out with six laps to after Kurt Busch hit the wall.
Starting next to Earnhardt on the inside for the restart with three laps to go was Harvick. In the second row were Logano and Bowyer.
When the green fell, Harvick attempted to pinch Earnhardt up to the wall but Earnhardt used his fresher tires to creep ahead of Harvick and keep the lead.
Harvick stayed close to Earnhardt’s rear bumper hoping for a mistake on the leader’s part. It was a mistake that never came.
“With Kevin I’m racing one of the best,” Earnhardt said. “That guy is going to get everything he can out of his car. I was anticipating him being right there on the inside going into (Turn) one. 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. He had a strong car though. I was over driving mine terribly those last few laps and not getting enough speed out of my car, but we just had the dirty air to keep him behind us. We were good in the tunnel in turn three, but I was burying it into one way too deep and he was gaining on me there.”No Comment