Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the GoBowling.com 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., on Sunday, completing the Pocono sweep. He also won at the track known as the “Tricky Triangle” back in June. It also continued a string of consecutive wins at Pocono for Hendrick Motorsports, adding a fifth-straight to the tally.
“Just thanked him for how he’s changed my like and how he’s supported me,” Earnhardt said of a phone conversation he had with team owner Rick Hendrick in victory lane. “He just puts great people in the right places. He has a knack for what he’s doing.”
Kevin Harvick overcame a pit road speeding penalty and getting caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 116 to finish second. Joey Logano was third, Clint Bowyer fourth, and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five.
Earnhardt took the lead from Biffle with 13 laps to go. After losing the lead, Biffle also gave second to Harvick. As a result, the race came down to a three-lap sprint to the finish between Earnhardt and Harvick after the eighth and final caution came out with seven laps remaining. Earnhardt and Harvick were able to pull away from the rest of the field to battle for the win.
“With Kevin, I’m racing on of the best,” Earnhardt said. “I drove it in there, and we were able to clear him, somehow.”
Pit strategies varied throughout the race, with some staying out and some pitting during the eight cautions that littered the race. The remainder of the laps were a virtual constant green-flag cycle.
Logano took the lead from Kyle Larson at the start, and Jeff 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 Earnhaardt 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.
Most of the eight cautions were either for debris or single-car incidents, but Pocono had its own restrictor plate-type “big one” on lap 116. The crash was the result of Denny Hamlin and Bowyer making contact on the previous restart. Cars then checked up to miss the spinning Hamlin and about 14 cars 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.
“I told Tony, the last time we did that was about two years ago at Talladega,” Menard said. “So we have got to stop doing that.”
During the lengthy caution for track clean-up, Earnhardt gave up second position to pit for fuel, a call made by crew chief Steve Letarte, so that he’d only need to stay in the pits long enough for a splash of fuel later.
“I just trust what he does and the decisions he makes,” Earnhardt said of Letarte. “We came down pit road and just needed a splash of fuel while others needed to fuel their tanks. We were able to leapfrong them.”
Earnhardt made his way back up through the field, putting himself in position to take over second on a restart following a lap 138 caution and race Biffle for the lead.
Finishing sixth through 10th were Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.