Dale Jr. Scales Pocono
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 said.
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’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.
Ricciardo Wins, Ends Mercedes Dominance
Montreal — Daniel Ricciardo won the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday, breaking the Mercedes stranglehold on the Formula One circuit.
The Red Bull driver earned his first Formula One victory and the first win this year for any driver other than Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Ricciardo passed Rosberg, the points leader and pole-sitter, with two laps to go. Hamilton was knocked out in the 48th lap with a brake problem.
Rosberg finished second, 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 remains second in the standings with 118 points.
Ricciardo moved up to third with 79 points, passing Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who was sixth and has 69 points.
Ricciardo may finally be coming out of the shadow of his more celebrated Red Bull teammate, the four-time defending Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel. The 24-year-old Australian now has two fourth places, two thirds and a victory in his last five races.
Drivers had to contend with track temperatures of 118 degrees (48 Celsius) at the start, on a sun-drenched day on the Ile de Notre Dame in the St. Lawrence River off of 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.
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 with nearly twice as many points as third-place Fernando Alonso.
The streak ended on Sunday when the two came tire-to-tire at Turn 7 and Hamilton was forced onto the grass to cut the corner of the chicane. But his car was smoking and within a lap the 2008 world champion — a three-time winner in Montreal — was out of the race.
Hamilton and Rosberg also dueled at the start, when they nearly touched tires and Hamilton dropped back. That allowed Vettel to move into second place — but only briefly.
At just the fourth turn on the 70-lap race, Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi collided, destroying Bianchi’s car and knocking them both out of the competition. Another crash marred the finish, when Felipe Massa drove right into the rear of Sergio Perez and sent the Mexican slamming into the wall.
Only 11 of the 22 cars finished the race.