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article imageNASCAR: Earnhardt rides friend's bad luck to Victory Lane

By John Duarte     Jun 9, 2014 in Sports
Long Pond - Dale Earnhardt Jr. capitalized on Brad Keselowski's misfortune, took over the lead of the Pocono 400 with five laps remaining and cruised the rest of the way to his second win of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Keselowski seemed in control and appeared to be on the way to his second win of the season, but a piece of trash clinging to the grille caused his car to overheat, opening the door for Earnhardt Jr.. The Daytona 500 champ swung by and pulled away to win the race at Pocono Raceway on Sunday. The win was a turnaround for the third round of the Sprint Cup season in Las Vegas, when Junior ran out of gas on the final lap and handed Keselowski the pass to Victory Lane.
“Brad had the better car. He had me beat,” Earnhardt said. “I've lost some in strange ways, so it feel good to win one like that.”
He added that there is a fine line separating a driver from finishing in Victory Lane at Pocono and being on the outside looking in. He praised the work of his team, and crew chief Steve Letarte in particular, for making his car better with each passing week of racing.
“In years past, it was someone else seizing the opportunity. We'd be third or fourth watching it happen,” Earnhardt said. “We haven't peaked, but we're certainly doing some of our best work right now.”
Keselowski was dominant on Sunday. He led the most laps, 95 of the race total 160, and was more than one second ahead of Earnhardt when his engine started to overheat. A bit of debris from the racetrack was stuck to his grille, effectively hindering air in that would keep the engine operating at peak performance. No matter what he tried, Keselowski couldn't get the grille clean.
“There was debris on the grille, so I had to do something,” Keselowski said of locking in behind a lapped car in hopes the garbage would be drawn off. “The car was starting to blow up.”
Earnhardt said Keselowski's engine “had to be super-hot for him to do that.” But, as is the case in most sports, friendships off the field of play stay exactly there, off the field of play.
“(Keselowski) is a good friend. He had it won,” Earnhardt said. “We weren't going to get him. I felt bad for Brad, to see him in a situation to be that desperate.”
On this day, Keselowski said the gamble was a calculated risk, but one that cost him the second win on the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. He said that he realized it was a mistake when the car started going sideways.
“I took a shot to clear (the debris) off and not lose time, but I misjudged it,” he said. “(The move) made enough difference for me to lose the lead in the process.”
This is the first time since 2004 that Earnhardt Jr. has won more than one race in a season. It was also his first-ever victory at Pocono Raceway.
“We've been so close. We've had so many opportunities slip away,” He said. “It feels so good to get into Victory Lane. We've had some good cars here, so it feels good to finish the deal.”
Jeff Gordon continues to lead the overall Sprint Cup Series standings, but Earnhardt's two wins and seven Top 5 finishes in the 14 races to far this season have him leading the Chase Grid. Ten different drivers have won races to this point, including four multiple winners. There are 12 races remaining on the schedule before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Under the new ranking format adopted by NASCAR for the Sprint Cup Series, wins are the primary criteria in selecting the 16 drivers who will be in 2014 Chase. Overall points, Top 10 finishes and Top 5 finishes will then be used to rank the drivers.
Next on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, in Brooklyn, Michigan, on June 15, 2014.
More about Nascar, Sprint cup series, pocono 4, pocono raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr
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