Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Outlook for Rest of 2014 NASCAR Season After Pocono Win

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Outlook for Rest of 2014 NASCAR Season After Pocono Win
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Following a huge win to start the season in the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. accomplished something he hadn't done in nearly a decade on Sunday at Pocono. With the first victory at Pocono in his career, Earnhardt also notched multiple wins for the first time since 2004.

While he only led 11 laps in comparison to Brad Keselowski's 95 times as he paced the field, Junior pulled away after debris slowed down the No. 2 machine. Here's a look at the difference during the finish:

Though Keselowski likely deserved the victory after a strong race, Earnhardt had a fast car that happened to be at the right place near the end. Let's just call it even after what happened in Las Vegas with Keselowski coming out on top.

Earnhardt spoke about the late-lap pass following the race, per Dan Gelston of The Associated Press, via Citizen-Times.com:

He had me beat. I couldn't get to him. I've lost in some strange ways, so it feels good to win one like that. ... They were still within good reason to stand on it and give it hell.

We were there all day running great. We had a fast car just never really got that track position until the end. You've got to be there and we were.

It has already been a standout season for Earnhardt, but Sunday's win at Pocono was special.

The 39-year-old driver had gone nine years without multiple wins in a single season and had also never won in Pocono. With both of those accomplishments wiped clean, Earnhardt is one of only four drivers with multiple wins and a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup secured.

Along with another checkered flag and winner sticker on the car, Junior also climbs up two spots in the Sprint Cup standings for the season:

2014 Sprint Cup Standings
Rank Driver Points Wins Top 5 Top 10
1 Jeff Gordon 498 1 5 10
2 Matt Kenseth 482 0 5 10
3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 476 2 7 9
4 Jimmie Johnson 475 2 5 9
5 Brad Keselowski 448 1 6 7
6 Kyle Busch 443 1 3 6
7 Carl Edwards 441 1 3 7
8 Denny Hamlin 420 1 4 5
9 Joey Logano 418 2 6 7
10 Kyle Larson 417 0 3 6

NASCAR.com

2014 Sprint Cup Chase Grid
Pos. Driver Wins Points
1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2 476
2 Jimmie Johnson 2 475
3 Joey Logano 2 418
4 Kevin Harvick 2 403
5 Jeff Gordon 1 498
6 Brad Keselowski 1 448
7 Kyle Busch 1 443
8 Carl Edwards 1 441
9 Denny Hamlin 1 420
10 Kurt Busch 1 283
11 Matt Kenseth 0 482
12 Kyle Larson 0 417
13 Ryan Newman 0 411
14 Brian Vickers 0 392
15 Greg Biffle 0 385
16 Austin Dillon 0 385

NASCAR.com

What this means for Junior moving forward is he's now securely in the Chase and doesn't have to be concerned about his spot. Only 12 races remain before NASCAR's playoffs officially begin, and the 11-time Most Popular Driver won't be left out in the first year with the new rules.

Coming into the season, some might have wondered if Earnhardt would have made the Chase with the emphasis now placed on wins. After just 14 races, some might wonder if he has a shot at taking the points championship overall.

Following his first win at Pocono, Tom Jensen of Fox Sports puts the last few months into perspective for Junior:

Much like his Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson, who won consecutive races over the last two weekends, Earnhardt now heads to another track where he's experienced success. Junior will yet again be a driver to watch, with two wins at the track and six top-five results during his career.

Back in 2012, Junior snapped a 143-race winless streak by taking the checkered flag at Michigan. He also followed that up with a fourth-place finish in the same season.

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Though Junior has never won a points championship during his career, it's hard to not take notice at what he's accomplished this season. With the new "knockout format," consistency will be one of the biggest keys to take the title.

Earnhardt currently has seven top-five finishes through 14 races, more than any other driver in Sprint Cup. His nine top-10 results also put him behind only Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth, two drivers with a combined one win between them.

In a year where everything has changed in NASCAR, Junior might just be a contender for his first Sprint Cup championship. For a season that has completely gone his way thus far, it might just be his best ever when the season ends in Miami.

 

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