News

Find the Latest News on Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Junior Leads 36 Laps at Pocono, Has to Settle for 8th

By Mike Davis, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 6/10/2012
Picture

Race: Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway
Track Specs: 2.5-mile speedway / 160 Laps
Weather: Overcast
Race Winner: Joey Logano
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 8th

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew team led 36 laps in Sunday’s Pocono 400 – bested only by Joey Logano’s 48 – but finished eighth after a sequence of fuel strategy and caution flags fell wayward of the 88 team’s favor. Nonetheless the eighth-place effort marked Earnhardt Jr.’s 11th top-10 finish in 14 races this season, and it moved him solely into second place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings, just 10 points behind new leader Matt Kenseth.

The first 310 miles of the new-and-improved 400-mile event at Pocono Raceway featured Earnhardt Jr., if not in the lead, close by it in his blue and white National Guard-themed Chevrolet. It was the last 90 miles that brought a change of fortune, starting with a caution flag on lap 124 that turned the race into a fuel-mileage gamble and left teams five laps short of making it to the end. Even more, Earnhardt lost the lead during the cycling of pit stops as Logano and Mark Martin beat the 88 off pit road.

Another caution flew with 23 laps to go for Kasey Kahne’s wreck. Four laps short of making it on gas, the No. 88 team opted for the security of gas in the tank rather than stretching its luck and risking a points hit. Crew chief Steve Letarte called for a splash-and-go on lap 138, and Earnhardt restarted 15th.

Junior drove from 15th to eighth in four laps before the race’s final caution flew for debris on lap 148. The problem for Earnhardt was an unexpected and unusual amount of caution laps in the final circuits. From the time the 88 car pitted for gas with 22 laps to go, 10 were run under caution. The snail’s-pace speed gave the cars who did not pit for gas – and there were many – enough fuel to make it to the end. That left Junior mired in eighth-place when the checkered flag waved for Logano, who claimed his second-career victory.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Quotes
“Well, we just didn’t want to run out of gas. I didn’t know the caution flags were going to be so long. And they were long enough to help them guys make it on fuel. We’re not taking those kinds of chances. Not just yet.”

AT WHAT POINT IN THE SEASON WILL YOU FEEL SAFE ENOUGH INSIDE THE CHASE THAT YOU DON’T NEED TO WORRY ABOUT ANY POINTS DECISIONS ANYMORE?
“That’s something you need to ask (crew chief) Steve (Letarte). He’s better and smarter about that stuff than I am. I back his call that he made today. I don’t like running out of gas. I ran out of gas here one year and that pisses me off so bad that it’s just hard to recover from it, mentally, you know; in the next couple of weeks. There’s just no excuse in running out of gas. You put fuel in it and you go run. But those guys that were up there; Mark (Martin) is racing for wins and Joey (Logano), I don’t know exactly where those guys are in points but they’ve got to get some wins to try to get the wild card. I’m not going to give up 30 points or 20 points in a race; not just yet, you know?

“I like the call we made today. We raced back up to eighth and didn’t win the race; might not have won the race. We might have run third; I don’t know. But it was the right call for us at this time. We had a really, really good car. That was fun. That was the fastest car I’ve had all year and the best car I’ve had a Pocono in a long, long time. So I’m just really trying not to be too upset about it because we did a lot of good things today and we’ve got a lot to look forward to.”

WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO COME BACK TO SOME OF THESE PLACES WHERE YOU’VE STRUGGLED IN THE PAST AND DO SO MUCH BETTER?
“Dover is usually the first race that starts off where we usually start to go south or where I tend to so south. It’s been nice to run good. Our team is strong. We’ve really been strong all year. I expect it to keep going. I’ll be terribly disappointed if we don’t exchange a run like this at all the ovals. I’m a shot in the dark at any road course you take me to, but we’ll try to do the best we can there, too.”

DO YOU FEEL GOOD GOING TO MICHIGAN?
“I do. Yeah, knowing the repave and how similar some things might be there, and we’re going to go test for a day. We learned a lot during the five days we were here and hopefully we can go there with some of that stuff we learned and have a strong car.”

IS THERE PRETTY MUCH NO REGRETS TODAY BECAUSE OF IT’S ‘DAMNED IF YOU DO, DAMNED IF YOU DON’T’ THE WAY THE CAUTIONS FELL, AND IT JUST DIDN’T WORK OUT FOR YOU GUYS? THERE WAS NO WAY YOU GUYS WERE GOING TO BE ABLE TO PLAY THE STRATEGY PERFECTLY?
“Yeah, there was a real good race for the lead. And the caution came out for the No. 43 hitting the wall. And I saw his car. He hit it pretty good. So I can’t be too upset about it. They can’t sit there and guess whether there is debris out there or not; they really have to take into consideration our safety and do the right thing. It upsets you at the time when a caution comes out and you don’t think it’s necessary, but they’re just looking out for our safety.

“And there were a lot of times when there was a debris caution and there was legitimate debris on the race track. It’s frustrating and it really changed the way we had to call our race. So everybody was really set to go. The guys at the end gambled; and a few of them beat us. It’s all right. It was fast, though, huh (laughs)?”

ON THE PIT ROAD SPEEDING PENALTIES.
“Steve (Letarte) just told me about them and just said to be careful. So I was extra careful. I was probably really ridiculously slow coming onto pit road. But I just don’t want to get popped. I get burned on TV and by the fan base whenever we do anything stupid on pit road such as miss our stall or something. It takes me about a year and a half to get over that in a lot of people’s eyes (laughs); so I can’t make too many mistakes on pit road. We have to be pretty careful.”

Pocono Race Report
Start 8th
Finish 8th
Laps Completed (Led) 160 of 160 (36)
Standings (from leader) 2nd (-10)
Condition Running

 

Standings
After IRWIN Tools Night Race
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 -- Jeff Gordon 845 0
2 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. 818 -27
3 -- Brad Keselowski 776 -69
4 -- Joey Logano 761 -84
5 -- Matt Kenseth 751 -94
6 +1 Jimmie Johnson 726 -119
7 -1 Kevin Harvick 721 -124
8 -- Carl Edwards 716 -129
9 -- Ryan Newman 710 -135
10 -- Clint Bowyer 699 -146
11 -- Greg Biffle 694 -151
12 +2 Kyle Larson # 668 -177
Full Standings