I love when a sweep happens. Sure it’s common to see it in baseball considering how teams play many games over the course of a few days, and in the NFL when a team sweeps its division, it’s a big deal considering they have to win six key games.
In NASCAR, sweeps are a different kind of deal, because they can only happen to one team, one driver, and at one specific track. That is what happened this weekend when NASCAR returned to Pennsylvania and the Pocono Raceway. In June, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a strong car after a year ago having victory slip away. When he passed Brad Keselowski in the late going, he drove away as if he was on a Sunday drive in his home state of North Carolina.
This time around, no one knew how good of a car he had, but they all knew his strategy to get in the right spot at the right time.
Crew chief Steve Letarte had the best pit strategy for their situation, and made it work when others were low on fuel and were riding on worn tires. For the key restart, he would get around Greg Biffle, and then go on to hold off a charging Kevin Harvick to secure his third win of 2014, the most he’s had in one season since 2004, ironically the same year he won the Daytona 500.
But this is where it goes back to the original wording: sweep. This is the first sweep of a series of races at one track for the season. But, more importantly, for Junior it’s his first sweep at one race track since he took the win in both races at Talladega back in 2002.
For Junior, the win guaranteed he would be part of the Chase this season, and with it being his third win, it also put him atop the Chase standings, ahead of both Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, who also have three wins a piece. Looks like there’s a new player in the title picture this season, and with just five races remaining before the Chase reseeds the 16-driver field, it would be foolish to think Junior and the No. 88 team are not contenders.
RESULTS: 1-Earnhardt Jr. 2-Harvick 3-Logano 4-Bowyer 5-Biffle 6-Gordon 7-McMurray 8-Newman 9-Hamlin 10-Kahne
NOTABLE FINISHES: 13-Kurt Busch 23-Keselowski 29-Edwards 35-Almirola 39-Johnson 42-Kyle Busch
CAUTIONS: 8 for 35 laps. Lap 10-12 (Debris-T2), 17-19 (#10 Accident-T2), 30-33 (#40 Accident-T2), 52-55 (#5, 66 Accident-FS), 113-116 (#48 Accident-T1), 118-126 (#2, 4, 7, 11, 14, 20, 27, 43, 47, 51, 55, 78, 99 Accident-T1), 140-143 (#47 Accident-T1), 154-157 (#41 Accident-T2).
LEAD CHANGES: 15 among 10 drivers. Larson POLE, Logano 1-30, Kurt Busch 31-43, Gordon 44-64, Kurt Busch 65-74, Allmendinger 75-76, Almirola 77, Gilliland 78, Gordon 79-94, Harvick 95, Kurt Busch 96-102, Kenseth 103-105, Gordon 106-131, Harvick 132-135, Biffle 136-146, Earnhardt Jr. 147-160.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 8 Mins, 22 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 127.411 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.228 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS: 1. Gordon, 757 points*; 2. Earnhardt Jr, -17*; 3. Keselowski, -70*; 4. Kenseth, -89; 5. Newman, -115; 6. Johnson, -124*; 7. Logano, -124*; 8. Edwards, -139*; 9. Bowyer, -140; 10. Kyle Busch, -146*
*Race Winner, Chase Eligible
Chase Eligible Drivers: Harvick (11th, 2 wins), Hamlin (21st, 1 win), Almirola (22nd, 1 win), Kurt Busch (23rd, 1 win)