Earnhardt wins at Pocono
LONG POND, Pa. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead from Greg Biffle with 13 laps remaining in the GoBowling.com 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway on Sunday and maintained his lead on a late restart with three laps to go to claim the win.
It was Earnhardt’s third win of the season and completed a season sweep of Pocono. Earnhardt also won at the track on June 8.
After getting passed by Earnhardt, Biffle continued to lose spots. Kevin Harvick overcame a pit road speeding penalty on lap 96 to be in position to move into second before the yellow flag waved with eight laps remaining. He held on to finish in the runner-up spot.
“With Kevin, I’m racing on of the best,” Earnhardt said. “I drove it in there, and we were able to clear him, somehow.”
Joey Logano finished third, Clint Bowyer fourth and Biffle rounded out the top five. Jeff Gordon finished sixth.
“That last restart, my plan was to push Kevin down into one and, hopefully, those two (Earnhardt and Harvick) would be door-to-door inside of the race track and the seas would part for me, but Dale just went quite a bit earlier than I though he would, and I didn’t have the full momentum behind Kevin,” Logano said.
Pit strategies varied throughout the race but evened out somewhat, with everyone being about to go the remaining distance on one more stop after a restart that followed a big crash in turn on lap 116. The crash was the result of Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer making contact on the previous restart.
“I was in the middle lane, and I got stuck three-wide,” Hamlin said. “Just the guys getting runs and guys that can accelerate much faster than what we can so that put me three-wide in the middle. The 15 (Bowyer) was right on my door and it sucked me around and I was just hanging on at that point, and I think it was mayhem from everyone checking up from behind.”
Cars checked up to miss the spinning Hamlin and about 14 were collected, including those of Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Justin Allgaier, Martin Truex Jr., A.J. Allmendinger, Harvick, Michael Annett, Paul Menard, Brian Vickers and Carl Edwards. When the smoke cleared, Stewart’s car sat atop Menard’s.
“It started far enough ahead of us that we couldn’t see it,” Stewart said. “We were just coming off of two, there, and somebody got sideways and started wrecking in front of us and we got caught up in it. I ended up on top of Paul Menard’s hood, so it wasn’t where we wanted to end up by any means.”
Several pitted under green between the lap 116 caution and then the rest pitted during another caution of the race on lap 138, leaving the entire race field able to go the remaining distance with Biffle and Harvick restarting first and second.
“I just trust what he does and the decisions he makes,” Earnhardt said of the late-race pit strategy call of his crew chief Steve Letarte. “We came down pit road and just needed a splash of fuel while others needed to fuel their tanks. We were able to leapfrog them.”
Prior to the large multi-car crash, the lead changed hands almost continuously because of the varying strategies that saw some pit and some stay out during cautions and led to lengthy cycles of green-flag stops that made the green portions of the race a virtual non-stop pit cycle.
Logano took the lead from pole sitter Kyle Larson and the start, and Gordon was up to second position by the time the third caution of the race came out on lap 28.
Kurt Busch was among those who stayed out during the caution and ran up front and built up a lead of six seconds over the rest of the field by the time he headed for pit road on lap 44. Busch’s pit stop turned the lead back over to Gordon.
Gordon gave up the lead to pit on lap 64. By lap 71, Busch was back up front. A few laps later, though, Busch pitted, and eventually, Gordon was back up front. At the halfway point, Gordon was the leader with Earnhardt in second. Earnhardt gave up second to pit on lap 94, and soon after, Gordon pitted from the lead. Busch was then back up front. Busch then pitted again, putting Gordon back up front.
Gordon and Earnhardt were first and second, with Logano in third with the yellow flag waved for Jimmie Johnson on lap 111.