Dale Earnhardt Jr. backed up his Daytona 500 victory earlier in the season, seizing his second checkered flag of the year, by winning Sunday's Pocono 400 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
NASCAR Stats noted the significance of Earnhardt's first triumph at Pocono Raceway:
That helped Earnhardt improve his standing in the Sprint Cup Chase, moving from fifth to third in points. Although he lost out on an opportunity to win after leading a race-high 95 laps, a second straight runner-up finish still helps 2012 NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski move up in the points hierarchy from eighth to fifth.
What lies ahead is the second half of the 2014 schedule. Below is a look at the updated Sprint Cup standings, along with analysis of the notable finishers from Sunday and the remainder of NASCAR races on tap.
Note: Statistics and schedule information are courtesy of NASCAR.com.
|2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver Standings|
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||476||-22||2|
Analyzing Notable Drivers
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
As long as it has been since Earnhardt has won more than once in a year, having the Daytona 500 win would have made just about any driver's campaign worthwhile. There's no indication that Junior is slowing down anytime soon, though, with the way he broke through at Pocono.
Keselowski was still giving Earnhardt all he could handle down the stretch, albeit slightly impeded by a piece of trash on his car. Credit Earnhardt for making the pass at the proper time and staving off a formidable adversary.
WCCB Charlotte's Kelli Bartik highlighted how successful Hendrick Motorsports has been in Long Pond as of late:
This team seems to have a read on what it takes to get it done at Pocono, and this time it was Earnhardt's turn to bask in the glory. Mike Davis, who's in charge of Earnhardt's communications, weighed in after the win:
With 21 career wins under his belt, Earnhardt appears poised for more. All that is really missing from his impressive resume is a NASCAR Sprint Cup title. If he's able to emulate the success he had in winning six times in his last multi-win campaign, there's reason to believe Earnhardt can clinch his maiden championship.
No one has more than Gordon's six Cup wins at the Tricky Triangle. A seventh triumph wasn't in the cards Sunday, yet the wily veteran still led two laps, finished eighth and pushed past Matt Kenseth for the lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Following Sunday's race, Gordon expressed frustration at his inability to make a push following the restarts:
That type of mentality is what has allowed Gordon to ascend among the all-time great drivers. Even in getting to the top of the standings, he was still seeking ways to improve.
Gordon may not be able to see the positives now given his impeccable record at Pocono. Expectations were going to be high with the prowess he's displayed in the past. However, this was a vast improvement over his finish of 15th at last week's FedEx 400.
It was 2001 when he won the last of his four NASCAR championships, yet Gordon continues to grind away. Now he is in an ideal position to continue the pursuit of another title for Hendrick Motorsports. His prolific teammate, Jimmie Johnson, has won twice already and is in fourth, though, so an exceptional effort will be required for Gordon to fend him off.
Talk about making a strong first impression on the top stock-car circuit. The rookie Larson is taking NASCAR by storm at the age of 21, pushing his way into the top 10 in points after a fifth-place effort in his maiden run at Pocono.
Performance Racing Network anchor Mark Garrow noted how seamless Larson's transition has been in replacing Juan Pablo Montoya for Chip Ganassi Racing:
Just behind another prodigy, Joey Logano, Larson has yet to win a race, but his consistency at this early stage of his career is extremely encouraging. It seems like only a matter of time before he strolls into Victory Lane.
There is merit to that claim, because Larson prepared for Sunday's excellent run by racing to a win at the ARCA Racing Series' Pocono 200 on Saturday. That he was able to carry over his success from that race to the Pocono 400 shows that Larson is quick to adapt and assemble an effective strategy for each track.
Many drivers come along and have a lot of innate ability and talent. It seems Larson has the maturity and poise to back that up already. Those qualities point to a bright future in which Larson could emerge as NASCAR's next superstar.
Whether Larson can be a true factor in the Chase remains to be seen. It will require him to win multiple times to emerge as a legitimate contender. With the momentum Earnhardt has captured at Pocono and the perpetual drive Gordon has to be great, those two decorated drivers should be in the thick of it until the end.
What's most impressive about the previous leader, Kenseth, who finished 25th at the Pocono 400, is that he hasn't yet won this season but has still managed to remain among the points leaders. He must translate strong results into wins soon or else risk being surpassed by the legendary Johnson, who lurks in fourth, or the myriad of other accomplished foes not far behind.
Next Sunday's action continues at Michigan International Speedway with the Quicken Loans 400. Earnhardt has won there twice, so he could feasibly get on a hot streak and push his way closer to the No. 1 spot in the driver standings.
|2014 NASCAR Schedule After Pocono 400|
|Sunday, June 15||1 p.m. ET||Quicken Loans 400||TNT|
|Sunday, June 22||3 p.m. ET||Toyota - Save Mart 350||TNT|
|Saturday, June 28||7:30 p.m. ET||Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts||TNT|
|Saturday, July 5||7:30 p.m. ET||Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola||TNT|
|Sunday, July 13||1 p.m. ET||Camping World RV Sales 301||TNT|
|Sunday, July 27||1 p.m. ET||Crown Royal Presents You Hero's Name Here 400 at the Brickyard||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 3||1 p.m. ET||GoBowling.com 400||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 10||1 p.m. ET||Cheez-It 355 at The Glen||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 17||1 p.m. ET||Pure Michigan 400||ESPN|
|Saturday, August 23||7:30 p.m. ET||Irwin Tools Night Race||ESPN|
|Sunday, August 31||7:30 p.m. ET||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series August Atlanta Race||ESPN|
|Saturday, September 6||7:30 p.m. ET||Federated Auto Parts 400||ABC|
|Sunday, September 14||2 p.m. ET||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series September Chicagoland Race||ESPN|
|Sunday, September 21||2 p.m. ET||Sylvania 300||ESPN|
|Sunday, September 28||2 p.m. ET||AAA 400||ESPN|
|Sunday, October 5||2 p.m. ET||Hollywood Casino 400||ESPN|
|Saturday, October 11||7:30 p.m. ET||Bank of America 500||ABC|
|Sunday, October 19||2 p.m. ET||Geico 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, October 26||1:30 p.m. ET||Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 2||3 p.m. ET||AAA Texas 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 9||3 p.m. ET||Quicken Loans Race For Heroes 500||ESPN|
|Sunday, November 16||3 p.m. ET||Ford EcoBoost 400||ESPN|