Pit strategies at the Tricky Triangle resulted in different lead changes throughout the race, but it was the money stop by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s team that got him his third win of the season – and a sweep at Pocono Raceway.
Earnhardt, Jr.’s crew chief, Steve Letarte, called him in under green flag conditions in the latter part of the race for fuel and Earnhardt, Jr. was able to race this way to the front. With 14 laps to go, he took the lead and put a large gap between him and the second place car. A caution with seven laps to go would bunch up the field which would create a restart between Earnhardt, Jr. and Kevin Harvick under a green-white-checkered finish. Harvick stayed with Earnhardt, Jr. but the outside lane proved to be a powerhouse position for Earnhardt, Jr. who went to the front of the field. Harvick had a couple of runs on Earnhardt, Jr. for the lead but ran out of laps.
This has been a remarkable season for the No. 88 team. Earnhardt, Jr. joins Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson with three wins on the season.
Cautions jumbled up pit strategies and the running order in the race. On lap eight, Jimmie Johnson would hit the wall after a right rear tire went down on his No. 48. He would bring out another caution on lap 111 when another tire issue would cause him to hit the wall even harder and end his race.
The “big one” happened on lap 117 in turn one. The field had just gone back to green when Denny Hamlin got loose and Brian Vickers moved to avoid him but got into Matt Kenseth instead. That caused a 13-car pile up. Tony Stewart’s No. 14 got hit in such a way that it ended up on top of Paul Menard’s car. No injuries were reported, but battered race cars either went to pit road for repairs or to the garage for terminal damage.
One the cars involved in that wreck was Kevin Harvick’s No. 4. He fought back from the wreck and a pit road speeding penalty to finish in the second position.
Jeff Gordon had another great showing for Hendrick Motorsports. Fresh off his win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Gordon led 63 laps on the day. He wasn’t able to get back to clean air after a cycle of pit stops, but had a sixth place finish. He reached two milestones in Sunday’s race: 24,000 career laps led in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and 1,000 laps led at Pocono Raceway.
Denny Hamlin, whose team was hit with the largest penalty in NASCAR this week and who came out unscathed from a crash he initiated that collected 13 cars, had a good run with a ninth place finish. Michael Wheeler called the shots for the No. 11 while Darian Grubb sat out due to a suspension. Grubb will be away from the pit box until Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 14.
Greg Biffle hasn’t had much success this season but showed a glimmer of hope Sunday afternoon with a fifth place finish. Biffle stayed out after a caution was called for a cut tire on AJ Allmendinger’s machine and led 14 laps. He wasn’t able to hold off a charging Earnhardt, Jr., Gordon, Logano or Bowyer to stay out front in the closing laps.
Rookie Kyle Larson wasn’t able to lead a lap despite starting the race from the pole. Joey Logano powered past him on the start and led the next 30 laps. Larson was the highest finishing rookie with an 11th place finish. Austin Dillon, Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series winner, was 15th and Justin Allgaier recorded a 16th place finish which ties his best career finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The top ten: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, and Kasey Kahne.
The next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race will be Sunday, Aug. 10 at 1 p.m. ET at Watkins Glen International.