JIMMIE JOHNSON DOMINATES AT POCONO

Top Five for Junior

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 car started sixth and only dropped out of the top five during pit-stop cycles en route to his fourth top-five finish of the season. Junior moved to fourth in the championship standings (photo courtesy: Nick Laham, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson scored his third win of the season and third career win at Pocono in dominating fashion. Johnson closed the deal by leading 128 of the 160 laps in the race, and was untouchable while cruising to his 63rd NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.

He extended his overall lead in the series to 51 points over Carl Edwards in Race 14 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17). The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.

Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third and moved up two spots in the standings to fourth.  This was Earnhardt’s fourth top-five finish of the season and his 10th career top-10 finish at Pocono. 

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point leader, Johnson started from the pole on Sunday and was able to select the first pit stall. With those advantages at Johnson’s disposal along with his strong car and solid pit strategy, the Hendrick Motorsports star had everything he needed to dominate at Pocono.

“Woohoo,” Johnson said. “I'm sure we've had some other really strong races like that, but not in recent memory. What a racecar. Not only the car and the handling and the grip that it had, but also the engine and what was under the hood. When I would lean on the throttle, this baby would yard anybody and everybody.”

For Earnhardt, who finished third, it would not have mattered. Despite having a car and engine built in the same shops as Johnson, Earnhardt acknowledged he had nothing for Johnson running Turn 3 over the closing laps.

“It looked like to me we got beat through Turn 3 pretty bad,” Earnhardt said. “Jimmie was just real fast through there.”

Earnhardt Jr. is gaining momentum just at the right time. The race at Pocono marked his first top-five result since Auto Club Speedway in March. His fourth top-five finish of the season elevated NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver from sixth to fourth in the point standings.

While some drivers might feel animosity toward a teammate as successful as Johnson, Earnhardt feels “fortunate” to be in the same shop as the five-time champion.

“I get to lean on them and I get to know exactly what’s happening under the hood,” Earnhardt said. “I can learn and use that to my advantage.

“When it’s good for Jimmie, it’s equally as good for us in an indirect way and hopefully, we can see what they did and come back to Pocono and try to improve on what we did today.”

Earnhardt feels his solid Pocono effort will provide the team with momentum entering this week’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, the site of his last Sprint Cup win.

“We’ve got a good package going to Pocono and going to Michigan,” Earnhardt said. “Hopefully going to Michigan we’ve got a good package. When we get there, we’ll see. But so far it’s been real similar to last year. We were strong here last year.”

Earnhardt started sixth and only dropped out of the top five during pit-stop cycles over 160 laps.

"It is good for us to get a good run," Earnhardt said. "We were counting on sort of rebounding. We haven't had a good last couple of months, cars haven't been that fast, had some issues here and there.

"But it's good to get a good solid full race in and finish where I felt like the car was capable of running."

He moved up two spots to fourth in the standings and has a 46-point cushion on 11th with 12 races before the Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set. The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.

Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, June 16 (1 p.m. EDT, TNT, MRN Radio and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90)—Race 15 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17). The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.

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