Dale Earnhardt Jr. seized his third checkered flag of the season and completed the sweep at Pocono Raceway Sunday at the GoBowling.com 400 to assume the lead in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
It was a historical feat indeed for Earnhardt, as Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer details:
NASCAR's Twitter account captured the special moment:
ESPN provided Earnhardt's immediate reaction to the result:
Kevin Harvick followed close behind in second place and as a result has essentially secured himself a spot in the coveted Chase. He and Earnhardt actually headline a list of contenders that continues to grow by the event:
To make it officially official, Harvick will simply need to attempt to qualify for the remaining 5 races and he'll be in the Chase. #NASCAR— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 3, 2014
7 drivers have now all but clinched their Chase spots: Earnhardt Jr. Edwards Gordon Harvick Johnson Keselowski Logano Who will be next?— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 3, 2014
Here is a look at the top 10 finishers from Sunday's action:
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||14|
Full results can be found at NASCAR.com.
Below is a look at the updated standings, a breakdown of Sunday's most notable results and a look ahead to what is already shaping up to be a wildly entertaining Chase.
2014 Sprint Cup Series Driver Standings
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||740|
2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase Grid
|Pos.||Driver||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||740||3||10||15|
Analyzing Notable Finishers
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
As if the above historical implications are not enough, it is also imperative to note that Earnhardt's third win of the season bodes well based on past performances, as illustrated by ESPN Stats & Info:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. with his 3rd career 3-win season. Also had 3 in 2001 (finished 8th in points) and career-high 6 in 2004 (finished 5th)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 3, 2014
He started in ninth place Sunday and led just 15 laps overall, but like always, Earnhardt showed off his knack for finishing strong as the entire field was tasked with weaving through late caution flags. He grabbed the lead away from Greg Biffle with 14 laps to go and never looked back.
That said, he also told the media that he was actually pushing too hard near the end:
"They were faster, I was over-driving it," @DaleJr says of the final laps. "I can't believe we swept Pocono."— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) August 3, 2014
Earnhardt's other non-Pocono win this season is, of course, the triumph back in February at the Daytona 500.
He is far and away the driver to beat at this point, although another victory outside of his current Pennsylvania stomping grounds would be a good way to keep his momentum strong as the season winds down.
It was all going so well for Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson and his crew worked hard to overcome an early deficit after his car hit the wall, and even climbed as high as 11 seconds off the lead, but a blown tire ended his day for good.
Fox Sports recorded some of the audio as JJ headed to the garage for a final time:
The driver himself took to Twitter to talk to fans about his summer woes:
I can't seem to make to the finish line this summer. We overcame so much today and made it to the top 5 before the tire blew. #SilverLining— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) August 3, 2014
In his past five starts, Johnson has finished no better than 10th place, with a pair of 42nd-place finishes to boot. It has been a far cry from his elite form that began in early May and eventually saw him tally three first-place finishes in four races, beginning in Charlotte and ending in Michigan.
Johnson has essentially already clinched his spot in the Chase, as have names such as Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano. But if his current form is any indication, he may struggle once there if things do not take a turn for the better.
Paul Menard and Kyle Busch
Talk about two guys who entered with a ton to gain Sunday but wound up somewhat backtracking thanks to downright bad luck.
Kyle Busch started the day in the top 10 in the Sprint Cup Standings and in the seventh spot overall on the day's event, but he lasted all of 24 laps before his engine blew out and ended his day.
A gloomy quote, via Kelly Crandall of Popular Speed, is all that needs to be said on the matter:
Kyle Busch, “It’s a piston. I know what it is. You guys know what it is. Done.”— Kelly Crandall (@KellyCrandall) August 3, 2014
Busch, who has finished in the runner-up position in three of his last five starts, will have to wait to potentially move up in the standings as a result.
For Paul Menard, the day was even worse.
The owner of 551 points and sitting just outside of the cutoff line entering Sunday's festivities, Menard was involved in a 13-car pileup late in the event with other names such as Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart.
The latter's car actually wound up on top of Menard's, as this note from Dustin Long of Motor Racing Network illustrates:
On a more somber wavelength, though, Bob Pockrass of Sporting News points out what a putrid two weeks it has been for a driver riding very much on the edge:
rough 2 weeks from menard, getting pushed out of Chase position on points. #nascar— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) August 3, 2014
Like all the drivers in Sunday's action, Menard now turns his attention to the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen that rests a week away.
Marcos Ambrose, representing Richard Petty Motorsports, has won two out of the last three at the event. But in an interesting twist, it was Busch who won the event last year. He will need to do so again in order to further distance himself from the pack.
No matter who emerges victorious in New York at one of the schedule's two road-course races, it is sure to be an entertaining affair for fans that does much to sort the contenders from the pretenders as the season hits the home stretch.
2014 NASCAR Schedule After Brickyard 400
|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|