Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined an elite list of drivers in the Sprint Cup Series on Sunday at Pocono by winning his second race of the year.
Dale Jr. now joins Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano as the only drivers with two wins, thus securing their spot in the 16-driver Chase field. Earnhardt would now be first in the Chase seeding as he now sits in third place in the points which is the highest of all the drivers with two wins.
The win was the 21st of his career, but more importantly for the Hendrick Motorsports driver it is the first season since 2004 that he has posted multiple wins and that season he visited victory lane six times. The two wins that he has already posted this season match his win total for the previous seven seasons combined.
Earnhardt Jr. and the rest of the Sprint Cup drivers are now in the last half of the regular season portion of the schedule, as Pocono was the 14th race of the 26-race schedule that will determine the Chase field. It’s this portion of the schedule that is so grueling, as it takes place in the heat of the summer with only one open weekend.
During the next 12 weeks, the schedule will challenge every driver as it features a very diverse group of tracks that will make moving into the Chase a very diffi cult task. Two of the races will take place on the road courses of Sonoma and Watkins Glen, plus a stop at the restrictor plate track of Daytona and a visit to the Bristol Motor Speedway for its annual night race.
If that isn’t enough variety, there is also a stop at Indianapolis that always jacks up the level of intensity, as it is one of the most sought after trophies in the sport. There are also two stops at Michigan that oftentimes awards a trip to victory lane to the driver that had the best fuel mileage instead of the best car.
The mile and a half tracks of Kentucky and Atlanta are also in this stretch as well as the one-mile track of New Hampshire. That leaves Pocono’s three-turn layout and the short track of Richmond to round out what is a make or break stretch for every driver trying to make the Chase, especially those that are trying to race their way in with a win.
PIT PASS: Winning may be the quickest way of getting into the Chase, but with only 10 different drivers posting wins at this point of the season, the point standings take on greater significance with every passing race. There are six drivers that would earn a place in the Chase because of their standings in the points including two rookies in Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon. Joining those two would be Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers and Greg Biffle. All four of those drivers have won races in the past and it would not be a surprise if any of the four would race their way in the Chase by winning one of the remaining races.
Kenseth’s seven wins last season makes him the favorite of the remaining drivers looking for their first win of the season to make it to victory lane. He has 31 wins in his career to go along with his championship run of 2003 that was so dominating that the following year; NASCAR introduced the Chase format to determine the series champion. His consistency throughout his career has helped to land him in nine of the ten seasons that the Chase has been used. In the remaining races leading up to the Chase, Kenseth will enter Kentucky and Bristol as the defending champion.
Event: Quicken Loans 400
Track: Michigan International Speedway (2-mile D-shaped oval, 180 of banking in the turns)
Date: June 15, 1:00 PM
Defending Champion: Greg Biffle