Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes the checkered flag at Pocono
By Jessica Ruffin
LONG POND, Pa. – With 12 laps to go, Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up his No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS second for final restart of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Pocono Raceway. He took the lead with five laps remaining and held on to win at “The Tricky Triangle” for the first time in his Sprint Cup career.
Teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon joined Earnhardt in the top eight, finishing sixth and eighth, respectively. Kasey Kahne was involved in a late-race incident and was scored 42nd.
Earnhardt’s win gave Hendrick Motorsports its 16th victory at “The Tricky Triangle,” the most among competitors in the Sprint Cup series. The team has now won the past four races at the Pennsylvania track.
Here is a look at how the Hendrick Motorsports fared in the 400-mile event:
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 GREAT CLIPS CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: 42nd
RECAP: Kasey Kahne began Sunday’s race at “The Tricky Triangle” from the 27th position. Patience was the theme of Kahne’s strategy, as he steadily maneuvered his No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS through the field. The strategy seemed to pay off, as the two-time Pocono winner had moved into the 21st position by Lap 19. Crew chief Kenny Francis called Kahne onto pit road at Lap 27 for fuel, four tires and a chassis adjustment. The adjustments seemed to help, as Kahne told Francis that his No. 5 Chevy SS now had nice grip. Kahne continued to advance his running position, cracking the top 10 by Lap 94. He stayed off pit road to gain several positions, which allowed him to take the runner-up position by Lap 97. After restarting 10th, Kahne received contact from a competitor, which caused him to collide with the wall at Lap 143. He was unable to finish the race and was scored 42nd.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: Eighth
RECAP: Jeff Gordon started Sunday’s 400-mile event with plenty of momentum, as he moved into the runner-up position from fifth on the first lap. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS continued to run in the top seven, but began to experience a handling issue around Lap 89. Crew chief Alan Gustafson addressed the issue at the next scheduled green-flag pit stop at Lap 96 and the adjustments seemed to be just what Gordon needed. By Lap 117, Gordon was back in the top five and running fourth. A yellow-flag pit stop at Lap 120 sent Gordon to the back of the field momentarily, but the six-time Pocono winner did not stay there for long. He steadily navigated his No. 24 Chevy SS through the field and briefly retook the lead at Lap 134 before coming onto pit road for the final time. Gordon continued to race in the top 10 for the remainder of the race and finished the eighth at “The Tricky Triangle.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: Sixth
RECAP: After qualifying 20th at the 2.5-mile track, Jimmie Johnson immediately began his forward march. By Lap 40, Johnson had propelled his No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS into the top 10. He used an efficient pit stop to gain two positions in the field and by Lap 66, the three-time Pocono winner had cracked the top five. At Lap 74, Johnson made contact with a competitor on pit road and was forced to return to his pit box for damage. The incident sent Johnson to the back of the field for the restart at Lap 76, but he did not remain there for long. Undaunted, Johnson stayed out of pit road and was able to move into to the runner-up position by Lap 105. A successful restart at Lap 122 allowed Johnson to quickly propel his No. 48 Chevy SS from position nine to fifth place. Johnson continued to race in the top 10 for the remainder of the race and finished sixth at the 2.5-mile track.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET SS
RACE FINISH: First
RECAP: Dale Earnhardt Jr. rolled off the grid eighth at the 2.5-mile track and seemed determined from the start. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS continued to race in the top 10 and was running seventh by Lap 49. While the leaders made green-flag pit stops around Lap 96, Earnhardt elected to stay out, which allowed him to gain several positions. One lap later, he had taken the lead at “The Tricky Triangle.” As the race unfolded, Earnhardt moved through the top 10 and briefly took the lead again at Lap 129 before coming onto pit road. Earnhardt restarted second at Lap 148 for the final time that afternoon and took the lead with five laps to go. He crossed the finish line first at “The Tricky Triangle,” collecting his first career win at the track.