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

R. Cory SmithSenior Writer IJune 8, 2014

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 08:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, poses in Victory Lane with the winner's trophy after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 8, 2014 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
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
RankDriverPointsWinsTop 5Top 10
1Jeff Gordon4981510
2Matt Kenseth4820510
3Dale Earnhardt Jr.476279
4Jimmie Johnson475259
5Brad Keselowski448167
6Kyle Busch443136
7Carl Edwards441137
8Denny Hamlin420145
9Joey Logano418267
10Kyle Larson417036
NASCAR.com
2014 Sprint Cup Chase Grid
Pos.DriverWinsPoints
1Dale Earnhardt Jr.2476
2Jimmie Johnson2475
3Joey Logano2418
4Kevin Harvick2403
5Jeff Gordon1498
6Brad Keselowski1448
7Kyle Busch1443
8Carl Edwards1441
9Denny Hamlin1420
10Kurt Busch1283
11Matt Kenseth0482
12Kyle Larson0417
13Ryan Newman0411
14Brian Vickers0392
15Greg Biffle0385
16Austin Dillon0385
NASCAR.com
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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.

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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