Pocono Belongs To Earnhardt Again
LONG POND, Pa. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed a season sweep of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at Pocono Raceway Sunday by winning the GoBowling.com 400.
Earnhardt came out on top of a crazy day at the 2.5-mile venue that included intense pit strategy, wild restarts, a 13-car pileup on lap 117 and a three-lap dash to the checkered flag.
“I can’t believe we swept Pocono,” said Earnhardt, who also won the Pocono 400 on June 8. “We definitely went home from the last race (at Pocono) and made our car better.”
The moment that changed the course of the race came moments after a restart on lap 117. Jeff Gordon was the race leader at the time, but behind him Denny Hamlin got loose coming out of turn one and bounced off the wall.
That set off a chain reaction crash behind Hamlin, with Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth coming together and crashing into the outside wall. Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Menard and several others piled into the crash.
The crash required a lengthy clean up period as NASCAR cleared damaged cars from the track and several teams opted to pit for tires and gas. Some, like Earnhardt, opted instead to stay out with plans to pit just after the green flag waved again.
Earnhardt and his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team stuck to their strategy. The green flag waved on lap 127 and Earnhardt pitted five laps later for fuel, guaranteeing he would be able to make it to the checkered flag without stopping again. Several others pitted in the next few laps, giving the race lead to Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle.
The caution flag waved again on lap 139 when Allmendinger’s Chevrolet hit the wall a second time, playing perfectly into Earnhardt’s strategy and allowing him to close the gap on Biffle for the race lead.
When the field returned to racing on lap 144 Earnhardt was quick to act, taking second from Kevin Harvick on the restart and setting his sights on Biffle. Three laps latter Earnhardt made his move, bypassing Biffle to take the race lead for the first time all day.
Within a few laps Earnhardt built a three-second lead as Harvick passed Biffle to take second. It looked as if Earnhardt had the race in hand, but the caution flag waved with eight laps left when Kurt Busch bounced his Chevrolet off the wall twice.