|Earnhardt pulls away late for 2nd win of season|
|Sunday, June 08, 2014 8:00 PM|
LONG POND, Pa. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having a blast again, with a shared bond with his crew, comfort in his own skin as NASCAR’s most popular driver, even finding fun 140 characters at a time on Twitter.
Winning races sure has a way of easing burdens on Junior.
Earnhardt turned Brad Keselowski’s trash into Victory Lane treasure, pulling away down the stretch Sunday at Pocono Raceway for his second win of the season and a secured spot in the Chase field.
He paired his first career win at Pocono with his Daytona 500 championship for his first multi-win season since 2004.
“I feel like I’m such a lucky guy to have this second opportunity again to be competitive,” Earnhardt said.
But for as strong as he ran in the No. 88 Chevrolet, Keselowski gift-wrapped this win when he yielded the lead with five laps left in a desperate attempt to clear debris from his grille and cool his overheated engine.
Keselowski’s gamble backfired — he couldn’t get the draft needed from the lapped traffic to clear his car and make one final pass for the win on Earnhardt. Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford still had the oomph in the engine needed to finish the race and he had his second-straight runner-up finish.
“It was definitely a mistake because the engine made it,” Keselowski said, rubbing his face. “It probably shouldn’t have.”
Junior shook off the rising red gauges in the No. 88 that could have had his car meet a similar fate as Keselowski.
“They were still within good reason to stand on it and give it hell,” he explained.
Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and rookie Kyle Larson completed the top five.
Earnhardt gave Hendrick Motorsports three straight wins, following back-to-back victories by Jimmie Johnson. Johnson overcame a pit road accident to finish sixth.
Owner Rick Hendrick texted Earnhardt before the race to let him know he would not attend and would see him next week at Michigan. Earnhardt told him, “I’ll drink one for you after it’s over.”
Earnhardt stuck to his end of the deal, spraying all types of beverages in a jubilant Victory Lane. Johnson was the first driver over to congratulate him.
I don’t have much to do tomorrow,” Earnhardt said, grinning. “Tonight’s going to be a long one.”
Earnhardt, long NASCAR’s most popular driver, gave the Pocono crowd plenty of reason to go wild. He was mobbed by almost 100 fans outside the Pocono media center, screaming his name and clamoring for a picture with the winner.
He waved and ducked into a waiting car, whisked away for another party.
Maybe the fans should try tweeting at him to earn his attention.
A reluctant participant on Twitter for years, Earnhardt warmed fast to the social media site after winning Daytona. He said he underestimated the amount of fun he’d have interacting with fans. He loved the “go get ‘ems” that dot his feed, though it’s the “haters” that he really feeds off.
“The real short ones, like, ‘You suck,’ those are the best ones,” he said, smiling. “I just favorite them and block them. It’s so much fun.”
Earnhardt’s second win means he is guaranteed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship field. He won for the 29th time in 519 career Sprint Cup starts.
“When we won at Daytona, man, it made the rest of the year a lot more relaxing, a lot easier,” he continued. “It makes it fun because you can just go to the track and just race, not worry about points.”
Junior’s breakthrough was more meaningful because has come in crew chief Steve Letarte’s final season. Letarte, who had a Pocono win with Jeff Gordon, has become one of Earnhardt’s best friends. That tightness off the track just may have sparked the wins on the track.
“Maybe that’s why him and I are such good friends, because I might be the only one in the world that doesn’t wonder what it’s like to be Dale Junior,” Letarte added. “He’s a normal guy, he’s a great guy, he’s a great talent. I don’t have any idea what it’s like to be him.”
Earnhardt led three Hendrick drivers in the top 10; Gordon finished eighth.
Johnson’s bid for a third straight victory was derailed when he connected on pit road with Marcos Ambrose. Coming off wins in the Coca-Cola 600 and at Dover, Johnson was fifth when he pitted under yellow. Johnson hit Ambrose and spun 180-degrees, which forced him to back into his stall for more repairs. He needed two tires, had right-front damage and dropped to 29th on the restart.
Busch posted his first top 10 since his win at Martinsville nine races ago. He salvaged a rough day for his team that saw fellow Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick drop from contention with various issues. Stewart held the lead and was in great position late to win until he was busted for speeding on pit road and was dropped to 31st. Harvick was running second when had tire trouble.
Stewart finished 13th, Harvick 14th, and SHR’s Danica Patrick was 37th after she smacked the wall with 22 laps left.
All those mishaps — and one loose wrapper — all made it a race to remember for Earnhardt.
“A year or two ago, we weren’t running to seize the opportunity,” Earnhardt added, “and now we are.”
From red Indy to green-white-checkered at Texas
FORT WORTH, Texas — Juan Pablo Montoya brought up the idea of how cool he thought green-white-checkered finishes could be for IndyCar only moments after his third-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
“No way,” Will Power quickly responded. “Not in IndyCar.”
Except that is exactly what had just happened Saturday night after a late caution led to a restart with two laps left at the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked track.
Ed Carpenter hung on for another oval victory over the hard-charging Power, who after a costly penalty earlier was on fresh tires and very likely could have won with one more lap.
Power is still the season points leader over Helio Castroneves, another Penske driver.
Texas came two weeks after the rare red flag in the closing laps of the Indianapolis 500 that set up the second-closest finish ever at the Brickyard.
The final caution at Texas with seven laps left came after the engine in Takuma Sato’s car blew and he was able to quickly come to a stop on the apron. Townsend Bell’s crash with 10 laps remaining at Indianapolis left debris scattered on the track.
Carpenter led by about 17-18 seconds over Montoya before Sato’s engine fire. Carpenter got way ahead after Power was penalized for speeding on pit road when the top two then made their final green-flag stop with 35 laps left.
Power, who led 145 of the 248 laps, was sixth when the final caution flag came out and got fresh tires while the top four stayed on the track. In the final 2-lap shootout, he raced past three other cars and finished only a half-second behind Carpenter, who led four times for 90 laps.
All three of Carpenter’s career victories have come on ovals, the last two since starting his own team in 2012. He was also the Indy 500 polesitter last year and this and now races only ovals while Mike Conway handles road and street courses. Conway won at Long Beach in his second race with the team.
Ricciardo wins Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix
MONTREAL — Daniel Ricciardo may be coming out of the shadow of his more celebrated Red Bull teammate.
The 24-year-old Australian won the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday to earn his first career Formula One victory, joining 4-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel on the podium and snapping Mercedes’ stranglehold on the circuit this season.
Ricciardo’s win was the first win this year for any driver other than Nico Rosberg, the pole-sitter and championship leader, and Lewis Hamilton, a 3-time Canadian GP champion. But the twin Mercedes Silver Arrows were forced to slow down midway through the race to keep their brakes from overheating and Ricciardo was able to take advantage.
Ricciardo passed Rosberg with two laps to go.
Rosberg finished second under a caution caused during a last-lap crash between Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez, easily protecting his lead in the championship standings. The German has 140 of a possible 175 points through seven races, with two victories and five second-place finishes. Hamilton, who went to the garage after 46 laps when his brakes overheated, remains second in the standings with 118 points.
With two fourth-place finishes, two thirds and a victory in his last five races, Ricciardo moved up to third with 79 points, passing Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who was sixth and has 69 points. Vettel, who won in Montreal last year, earned 15 points for his third-place finish and is fifth in the standings with 60 points.
Drivers had to contend with track temperatures of 118 degrees (48 Celsius) at the start, on a sun-drenched day at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on the Ile de Notre Dame near downtown Montreal. The track, home to the Canadian Grand Prix since 1978, will get a face lift as part of a 10-year extension announced Saturday to keep the race in town through 2024.
Known as one of the more unpredictable tracks in Formula One, Montreal offered excitement from the start when Hamilton and Rosberg, who share a tense partnership, went tire-to-tire into the first chicane. Hamilton was forced to brake, allowing Vettel to pass.
But Hamilton was soon back in second and the two Mercedes drivers seemed headed for what would have been their sixth a 1-2 finish in a row. That ended when Hamilton tried to overtake Rosberg on a chicane at Turn 7 but instead was forced onto the grass.
He came out of the exchange with his car smoking and within a lap the 2008 world champion — winner of four races this season — was out of the race. That left Mercedes with just Rosberg and he was told over the radio to conserve his brakes so that he could make it to the end.
Only 11 of the 22 cars were still running at the end of the 70 laps on the 2.71-mile circuit. Massa was running fifth when he tried to pass Perez and collided with him, nearly taking out Vettel in the process; Massa posted a thumbs-up picture on Twitter from the hospital, and a Formula One spokesman said Perez also checked out OK.
Mercedes has been dominating Formula One this season, winning the first six races and sweeping the top two in five of them to put Rosberg and Hamilton 1-2 atop the championship standings. Mercedes leads Infinity Red Bull 258-139 in the constructor’s standings.