LONG POND, Pa. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having a blast again, with a shared bond with his crew, comfort in his own skin as NASCAR’s most popular driver, even finding fun 140 characters at a time on Twitter.
Winning races sure has a way of easing burdens on Junior.
Earnhardt turned Brad Keselowski’s trash into Victory Lane treasure, pulling away down the stretch Sunday at Pocono Raceway for his second win of the season and a secured spot in the Chase field.
He paired his first career win at Pocono with his Daytona 500 championship for his first multi-win season since 2004.
“I feel like I’m such a lucky guy to have this second opportunity again to be competitive,” Earnhardt said.
But for as strong as he ran in the No. 88 Chevrolet, Keselowski gift-wrapped this win when he yielded the lead with five laps left in a desperate attempt to clear debris from his grille and cool his overheated engine.
Keselowski’s gamble backfired — he couldn’t get the draft needed from the lapped traffic to clear his car and make one final pass for the win on Earnhardt. Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford still had the oomph in the engine needed to finish the race, and he had his second-straight runner-up finish.
“It was definitely a mistake because the engine made it,” Keselowski said, rubbing his face. “It probably shouldn’t have.”
Junior shook off the rising red gauges in the No. 88 that could have had his car meet a similar fate as Keselowski.
“They were still within good reason to stand on it and give it hell,” he said.
Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and rookie Kyle Larson completed the top five.
Earnhardt gave Hendrick Motorsports three straight wins, following back-to-back victories by Jimmie Johnson. Johnson overcame a pit road accident to finish sixth.