LONG POND, Pa. - Team Penske Racing driver Brad Keselowski’s Pocono Raceway trash became another man’s treasure Sunday when Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., scored his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) victory on the 2.5-mile triangular track and his second victory this season.
Keselowski, who led 95 of the 160 race laps in the 400-mile affair, was in command of the 43-car field with nine laps remaining when a piece of trash became plastered to the lower right of his No. 2 Ford’s grill on the frontstretch.
With the No. 2’s engine temperature reaching critical mass, Keselowski maneuvered his car behind the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) car of Danica Patrick in an attempt to dislodge the debris. The move was unsuccessful and forced him to surrender the lead to Earnhardt Jr., and his No. 88 on the backstretch with six laps remaining in the race.
Keselowski was able to pressure Earnhardt Jr., in the final moments and drove within 0.215 of second of the lead, but was unable to recapture the top spot before the No. 88 sailed to a 0.439 of a second victory.
Earnhardt Jr., who placed second to Keselowski this season when the No. 88 ran dry on fuel on the final lap of the March 9 NSCS Vegas Motor Speedway race, crossed the finish line with his first victory since his season-opening Daytona 500 triumph.
The No. 88 team has collected a combined seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes through 14 races this season.
Earnhardt Jr., sensed the irony in Sunday’s result.
“I’ve lost some in some strange ways, so it feels good to win one like that,” Earnhardt Jr., said. “He (Keselowski) didn’t want to let me by, but I don’t think his motor was going to make it. It’s unfortunate for him, he had me beat. I couldn’t get to him; it’s just real hard to pass here.
“Brad definitely had the better car, I definitely own up to that, but we won the race. We were there all day running great, we just never really got that track position until the end.
“You’ve got to be there and we were. Somebody had a mistake, had an issue. We capitalized. I’m just real proud of my team.”
Keselowski placed second for the second consecutive week and now owns six top-five and seven top-10 finishes this season.
“We had a really fast Ford, we just got a big piece of debris on the grill and had to do something,” he said. “I tried to make a move to get in behind the No. 10 and use the air to pull the debris off. When she (Partick) went in the corner, she got loose. I chased her up there and lost too much momentum. I should’ve just passed her.
“I had to do some kind of move, the car wasn’t going to make it. It was already starting to blow up. Dale made a heck of a move to take advantage of it and sometimes that’s just how racing goes.”
Kurt Busch took third in the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing car, race pole winner Denny Hamlin placed fourth in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) machine and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates rookie Kyle Larson completed the race top five.
JGR’s Matt Kenseth, who started the race with a five-point championship lead on HMS competitor Jeff Gordon, slid from the top spot following a 25th-place finish. Gordon reassumed the championship lead after scoring an eighth-place finish that marked his 10th top-10 result of the season.
He will hold a 16-point championship edge on Kenseth when drivers take the green flag at Michigan International Speedway June 15.
The series stages its fourth all-time Kentucky Speedway event in 20 days to cap a three-race weekend that opens June 26 with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225 and continues with the NASCAR Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 presented by Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.
Tickets, ticket packages, Kroger Fan Zone passes that provide a stage-side view of Thomas Rhett’s Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts race-day concert, and campsites can be reserved through the respective pages of this website, by calling (859) 578-2300 or visiting the speedway ticket office at 1 Speedway Drive, Sparta, Ky., 41086 just off Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 N.