'Perfect' pit strategy helps send Earnhardt to Victory Lane
By Gray Caldwell
LONG POND, Pa. – With three laps to go at Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. held onto his lead on a restart, going on to earn a sweep of the track for 2014.
But the win was about more than just speed.
"We're not in that position just on car alone,” Earnhardt said after the race. “We had a fast car and I drove a good race, but [crew chief] Steve [Letarte]'s strategy gave us a chance to win."
“Steve’s strategy was perfect at the end.”
That strategy began on Lap 121 when Earnhardt took his No. 88 Michael Baker International Chevrolet SS to pit road to take four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. He gave up track position to do so when the majority of the front-runners—including then-leader Jeff Gordon – stayed out.
Ten laps later, Earnhardt visited pit row once again solely to top off his fuel, allowing him to leap-frog competitors taking tires and more fuel.
“That was pretty awesome,” Earnhardt said. “It takes a really, really smart guy to understand what to do to take those gambles. Sometimes they pay off and sometimes they don’t.”
On Sunday, the gamble paid off.
"When you come to a track like Pocono, you have to be very creative with your strategy,” Letarte said. “That only works if everybody executes. He was spectacular on that restart, got us where we need to be. The pit crew was efficient, we got off pit road and then it was just sit back and watch.”
Earnhardt’s win, thanks in large part to the pit-road strategy, was his third of the season.
“I can’t believe we swept Pocono,” he smiled.