Season-sweep for Earnhardt Jr. at Pocono

08/03/2014 4:58 PM

08/03/2014 8:22 PM

Long Pond, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored a season-sweep at a racetrack for just the second time in his Sprint Cup Series career with a victory in Sunday's GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Earnhardt, who won the Pocono 400 here on June 8, passed Greg Biffle for the lead with 14 laps remaining and then held off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick after the last restart with three laps to go. He beat Harvick to the finish line by 0.3 seconds.

"With Kevin, I'm racing one of the best," Earnhardt said. "That guy is going to get everything he can out of his car. I was anticipating him being right there on the inside going into [turn] 1. I was just going to have to really get brave and drive it down in there and pray for it to stick. I drove it in there and was able to clear him somehow."

It was the first time Earnhardt won both races at a track in the same season since Talladega Superspeedway in 2002. Denny Hamlin was the last driver with a season-sweep at Pocono, doing so during his 2006 rookie season.

When Earnhardt won the Pocono 400 two months ago, he passed Brad Keselowski for the lead with five laps remaining. He held it for his first victory at this track in 29 starts. Earnhardt, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, led only the final 14 laps in this race.

"I can't believe we swept Pocono," he said. "We definitely went home from the last race [Pocono 400] and made our car better. That is what I am proudest of this team for. They went back and didn't sit on what we had. They wanted to have a better, faster car, so we didn't have to rely on luck to win."

Earnhardt claimed his third win of the season, which placed him in a tie with Jimmie Johnson, his teammate at Hendrick, and Keselowski for most victories in NASCAR's premier series this season. Earnhardt also earned his 22nd career win in the series.

Hendrick Motorsports has now won five straight races at Pocono, a streak that began with Gordon's victory here in August 2012.

This 400-mile race at Pocono featured eight cautions, mostly for accidents, including one for a 13-car pileup that occurred in turn 1 following a restart on lap 117. Hamlin got loose and nearly wrecked. While trying to avoid contact with Hamlin, Brian Vickers spun out and collected several cars that were running in a tight pack.

"I was coming out of turn 1, and the 11 [Hamlin] just spun in front of me," Vickers said. "I was trying to avoid him, and the car got up from under me. I don't know if somebody got into me or not, but one thing led to another trying to avoid the 11. And I ended up in the wall."

Keselowski, who won Saturday night's Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Aric Almirola, A.J. Allmendinger, Martin Truex Jr. and Carl Edwards were among those caught up in the wreck. Harvick was also involved, as he sustained slight damage to his car.

Stewart's car went on top of Menard's vehicle and came to a rest there. No one was injured during the incident.

"It started far enough ahead of me, and I couldn't see it," Stewart said. "I was coming off of the corner there, and somebody got sideways and started wrecking in front of us. I got caught in it and ended up on top of Paul Menard's hood. It's not where we wanted to end up by any means."

Harvick rebounded not only from the multi-car accident but also a penalty for speeding off of pit road on lap 96.

"This hasn't been one of my best tracks, but I just have to thank all my guys on this [No. 4 Stewart- Haas Racing] team for putting us in position to at least pull some strategy there," Harvick said. "I made a lot of mistakes today, and they made up for it with a fast race car."

Joey Logano finished third, followed by Clint Bowyer and Biffle. Jeff Gordon, who is the current points leader and Earnhardt's teammate, placed sixth after leading the most laps with 63. Gordon won last weekend's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"We had the dominant car, but you had to have track position there at the end, and we didn't have it," Gordon said.

Gordon reached two laps-led milestones in this race: 24,000 career laps led in the series and 1,000 career laps led at Pocono.

Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Hamlin and Kasey Kahne, who won this race one year ago, completed the top-10.

Johnson, the six-time and defending series champion, suffered a flat tire and made contact with the wall in turn 3 on lap 9, forcing the first caution. He fell one lap behind but eventually made his way back.

While running in fifth on lap 112, Johnson appeared to have another tire issue when he crashed into the wall again. His second incident put him out of the race, as he finished 39th.

"The first [accident] I got tight off of [turn] 1 and went into the fence, which pushed the quarter-panel on the rear tire, causing the first flat," Johnson said. "It was my mistake. My bad."

"On the second [wreck], I'm clueless as to what happened there. It didn't act like a tire went down, so I'm not exactly sure if it did. Normally when they go down that quick they explode. There was no explosion, and the tire did not come apart. The car just went straight. Hopefully, we can get a reason why it happened."

It's the second time in three races that Johnson did not finish after he crashed due to tire failure. He experienced the same problem last month at New Hampshire, early in that event.

Kyle Busch suffered engine failure on lap 24, ending his day with a 42nd-place finish.

"It's unfortunate," Busch said. "I thought we had a good car today. Our car had been good in practice this weekend. Obviously, you hope for better days. This [No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing] team deserves better days, but this isn't one of them."

Five races remain before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins. The series heads to Watkins Glen, New York next weekend and then travels to Michigan, Bristol and Atlanta before the regular season concludes on Sept. 6 at Richmond.

Here at Pocono, Harvick became the seventh driver to clinch a spot in the 16- member Chase field. He joined Earnhardt, Edwards, Gordon, Johnson, Keselowski and Logano as those drivers who have secured a spot in this year's playoffs.

With his third win and a second-place position in the point standings, Earnhardt moved to the top position in the NASCAR "Chase Grid."

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