Victory gives Earnhardt Pocono sweep
By Gray Caldwell
LONG POND, Pa. – Make that five in a row for Hendrick Motorsports at Pocono Raceway.
A late pit strategy helped Dale Earnhardt Jr. make his way to Victory Lane in the No. 88 Michael Baker International Chevrolet SS for a sweep of both Pocono races in 2014.
“Awesome job, man,” Earnhardt said over the radio after taking the checkered flag. “Y’all are something else.”
It marks Earnhardt’s third win of the season and first season sweep of a track since 2002 at Talladega. The last time a Hendrick Motorsports driver swept both Pocono races was 2004 when Jimmie Johnson did so.
Hendrick Motorsports’ 226th win was the 22nd of Earnhardt’s Sprint Cup career.
Teammate Jeff Gordon finished the race in sixth position. Kasey Kahne was next in 10th place followed by Jimmie Johnson in 39th.
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Starting in 12th position, Kasey Kahne jumped into the top-10 after just one lap. That’s where he stayed until he took a green-flag trip to pit road just before a Lap 29 caution, which helped him recover track position after his pit stop quickly. By Lap 43 he was up to seventh position, and when he took just two tires on a green-flag pit stop on Lap 45, he was able to get back into the top 10 quickly as drivers shuffled through green-flag pit stops. By Lap 68 he was up to second place, a position he found again on Lap 98 as teams continued to rotate through green-flag pit stops. With 34 laps to go, Kahne was in 10th place, and a fuel-only pit stop on Lap 130 set him up for a top-10 finish down the stretch.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: From a fifth-place start, Jeff Gordon jumped up one position by Lap 5 and settled into third place after a Lap-12 restart. On Lap 45, he took his first lead of the race. He held on to that lead until his green-flag pit stop and as those green-flag stops cycled through, he was back in first by the midway point of the race. In the process, he became the first driver ever to lead 1,000 laps at Pocono in a career. As the field continued to cycle through green-flag pit stops, Gordon was in the lead when the caution flag waved on Lap 112. During the next stretch of the race, he cracked the 24,000-mark in career laps led. Gordon headed to pit road from the lead during green-flag racing on Lap 132. The stop featured four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment and took just 13.1 seconds. A restart with 17 laps to go had Gordon in seventh place, and he moved up to finish sixth for the day.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: After beginning the race in 17th place, Jimmie Johnson reported to crew chief Chad Knaus that hit the wall and had a tire problem. That called for a caution on Lap 9, and Johnson fell a lap behind. On Lap 16, however, another caution flag allowed Johnson a free pass as the only driver a lap down. That put him in 33rd place and he got to work bettering his position. By Lap 24 he was up to 29th position. On Lap 45 he cracked the top-20, and just past the midway point of the 400-mile race he moved all the way up to fourth place. But on Lap 111 a tire problem caused Johnson to hit the wall for a second time, and he drove straight to the garage. He was scored 39th.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 MICHAEL BAKER INTERNATIONAL CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Rolling off the grid in ninth place, Dale Earnhardt Jr. quickly jumped up to seventh position and continued to run in the top 10 for the first portion of the race. After a lap 29 caution, Earnhardt took four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment and restarted 19th. By Lap 49, he was all the way up to eighth place, and on the restart following a Lap 51 caution, he quickly moved up to fourth place. When he jumped to third place on Lap 60, he said over the radio, “Keep giving me this power!” Crew chief Steve Letarte made the call for Earnhardt to take four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment during a Lap-94 pit stop, which proved to be his second-to-last. That allowed the No. 88 Chevrolet SS to take a fuel-only stop on Lap 131 and set him up to battle for the lead down the stretch. With 17 laps to go, Earnhardt surged to second place on a restart. He took the lead with 14 to go and held on to claim a sweep of both Pocono races for 2014.