Dale Earnhardt Jr has swept both races at a racetrack for the first time since 2004 on Sunday when Earnhardt used a little pit strategy and a strong racecar to win the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway. It's Earnhardt's 22nd career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory and the third of his 2014 season.
"We had a fast car all day, Steve's strategy was perfect, it takes a really really smart guy to take that gamble," Earnhardt said in victory lane. "I can't believe we swept Pocono."
Earnhardt was able to hold off a hard charging Kevin Harvick in the closing stages to go to victory lane. Finishing in the third position was Joey Logano with Clint Bowyer coming home fourth and Greg Biffle finishing fifth. Jeff Gordon finished sixth with Jamie McMurray seventh and Ryan Newman coming home eighth. Finishing in the ninth spot was Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top ten. Pole sitter Kyle Larson finished in the 11th spot with Casey Mears finishing 12th. Finishing in the 13th spot was Kurt Busch with Marcos Ambrose coming home 14th. Finishing in the 15th spot was Austin Dillon with Justin Allgaier coming home 16th. Finishing in the 17th spot was David Gilliland as the last car on the lead lap. Ricky Stenhouse Jr came home 18th. Finishing in the 19th spot was David Ragan and Ryan Truex finished 20th.
The race was began with Kyle Larson and Joey Logano on the front row. Early on in the running of the GoBowling.com 400 the race was filled with an unusual amount of cautions. From the very beginning of the race cars were having issues including 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski. Keselowski slid in turn two on lap one and almost crashed but hung on to his #2 Team Penske Ford and would continue. However, six time champion Jimmie Johnson wasn't so lucky. On lap eight Johnson would have a right-rear tire go down on the front-stretch on his #48 Chevrolet. Johnson would have significant damage and the impact would leave debris all over the track causing the races' first caution flag. Johnson would make repairs on pit road and would continue but a lap down.
Joey Logano and Kyle Larson would lead the field to green on the lap 13 restart. On lap 15 Danica Patrick would find trouble as she it the wall in turn two. On the next lap her tire would go down and she hit the wall even harder. She would finish six laps down in 30th. On lap 20 the race would restart with Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano out front. On lap 23 Kyle Busch's Toyota would fall off the pace with engine issues. Busch would bring his car into the garage area and he was done for the day and finish in the 42nd spot.
Meanwhile Logano remained in front of Harvick on the restart. Harvick would lose the second position to Jeff Gordon. Gordon would close in on Logano but his progess would be stopped because of the races' third caution flag when Landon Cassill slammed the outside wall. Cassill was done for the day and he finished 41st.
Some of the leaders would pit and after the stops Kurt Busch would stay out and he led the field to green on the lap 34 restart. Busch would shoot out to a great restart and would start to pull away from the field. Busch had a three second lead when he had to pit on lap 44. As Busch pitted, Jeff Gordon inherited the lead and Gordon showed his strength for the first time. Gordon had about a two and a half second lead over Joey Logano when the race's fourth caution flag flew on lap 51 when Joe Nemechek hit the outside wall after contact from Kasey Kahne. Nemechek was done for the day and finished 40th.
Jeff Gordon would stay out and lead the field to green on the lap 55 restart with Joey Logano alongside. Gordon shot out to a lead and was the dominate car in the middle part of the race. Gordon's lead was two seconds when he pitted on lap 66 to start green flag pit stops. Kurt Busch would assume the lead after Gordon pitted as Busch and Gordon were on different strategies. The two would swap leads on pit stops as Busch would pit on lap 75 and Gordon would retake the lead.
As the race reached the halfway point Gordon led Dale Earnhardt Jr and Joey Logano on lap 80 of the 160 lap event. Gordon would lead through lap 96 when he would pit giving the lead to Kurt Busch once again. It was on that round of pit stops, however, where Kevin Harvick would speed on pit road resulting in a pass through penalty. On lap 101 Kurt Busch's lead over Matt Kenseth was 13 seconds. Busch would pit on lap 103, however, and Gordon would get the lead once again.
Gordon's lead over Earnhardt was three seconds when Jimmie Johnson crashed and hit the wall hard on lap 111 ending his day. Johnson's damage was terminal and he ended 39th. The leaders would stay out with Gordon and Earnhardt leading the field to green on lap 116. Gordon would pull away on the restart and begin his assault on the field once again.
Gordon's progress would be stopped because of the races sixth caution flag for a huge pile-up that was caused when Denny Hamlin got loose and caused a chain reaction off of turn one. In all 15 cars received damage. Drivers involved in the wreck included Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Michael Annett, Matt Kenseth, A.J. Allmendinger, Deny Hamlin, Paul Menard, Brian Vickers, Justin Allgaier, Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose and Carl Edwards. Those unable to continue without going behind the wall for repairs were Truex Jr who finished 32nd, Menard in 33rd, Almirola 35th, Stewart 36th, Vickers 37th, and Kenseth 38th,
It was that caution where several teams would come in and pit including second place driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt and his team played a strategy to pit for tires and fuel under caution so all they would have to do is top off under caution and eliminate time on pit road under green. Jeff Gordon would stay out under the caution and would have to pit for tires and fuel under green flag conditions, meaning at least a 12.5 second stop for Gordon and only a three to five second pit stop for Earnhardt. It was an extreme gamble for Earnhardt as he lost a ton of track position. Earnhardt would restart in the eighth spot while Gordon and Kurt Busch led the field to green on the lap 126 restart.
Gordon would pull away and lead on the restart and by lap 133 Gordon pitted for tires and fuel. Earnhardt topped off for fuel on lap 132 and when the stops cycled around Earnhardt's strategy worked, putting him in front of Gordon by about six seconds.
Earnhardt was in the fourth spot, with three drivers attempting to stretch their fuel, including leaders Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick. On lap 137 the race's seventh caution flag flew when A.J. Allmendinger crashed ending his day in 34th. The Allmendinger crash allowed the field to bunch back up and allow Earnhardt to restart in the fourth spot. Gordon, meanwhile restarted in the eighth position.
On the lap 143 restart Greg Biffle led the field but would immediately feel pressure from Earnhardt who made a daring move on the restart and flew to the second position. Earnhardt would get Biffle for the lead on the Long Pond straightaway on lap 147 and began to pull away from the field thanks to the clean air.
It looked like Earnhardt's race to lose until Kurt Busch hit the wall causing the race's eighth and final caution flag. That would leave Earnhardt in front with Kevin Harvick alongside with a three lap shootout to the finish. Earnhardt would get in front of Harvick on the restart but Harvick wasn't about to quit and would put pressure on Earnhardt. However, Earnhardt was able to hold Harvick off and sail to his third victory.
Other notables in the field included Brad Keselowski in 23rd and Carl Edwards in 29th.
Earnhardt's win brought his total to three victories. He joins Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson in that category. Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick all have two victories. Drivers with one win on the season include Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch. The other five drivers who would make the Chase if it started after Pocono are Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Greg Biffle.
Notable drivers outside the Chase include Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Austin Dillon, Brian Vickers and Martin Truex Jr.
The next race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule is the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, August 10th.
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