Earnhardt on top after Pocono win
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having a memorable season.
The 39-year-old won his third NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the year at Pocono Raceway this past weekend, completing a sweep at the Pennsylvania track. He also found victory lane at Pocono in June in addition to his win at the Daytona 500 in the season-opener.
Junior already has as many wins in 2014 than he did the previous seven years combined. He won just one race between 2009-2013.
Earnhardt, who has already qualified for the Chase, is currently second in the points standings (693) behind Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon (717).
Earnhardt, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson are the only drivers with three Sprint Cup wins this season.
Gordon, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick all have two wins.
Earnhardt has a Sprint Cup-best 10 top-10 finishes in 2014.
It was announced last week that Earnhardt’s current crew chief, Steve Letarte, is leaving to take a broadcasting job with NBC at the end of the season.
Greg Ives, who was an engineer on five of Jimmie Johnson’s championship teams, will replace Letarte.
Five races remain until the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, starting with a trip to Watkins Glenn on Sunday (1 p.m., ESPN).
Kyle Busch is the defending champion at the New York track, which is measured at 3.4 miles and has 11 turns.
Tony Stewart has won at Watkins Glenn a record five times, including the last in 2009. Gordon has four wins, while Busch and Marcos Ambrose each have two.
The remaining venues until the start of the Chase include Michigan (Aug. 17), Bristol (Aug. 23), Atlanta (Aug. 31) and Richmond (Sept. 6).
The 10-race Chase begins in Chicago on Sept 13. and concludes in Miami on Nov. 16.
Staying in the hunt
Rookie Kyle Larson, who started on the pole for the first time in his career at Pocono, finished 11th in the 43-car field.
Larson is currently 15th in the points standings. The top 16 drivers in the standings following the Richmond race qualify for the Chase.
Larson, who has four top-five finishes and nine top-10’s this season, is the only rookie currently in the Chase.
Austin Dillon is 18th in the standings, just two points behind Greg Biffle for the final spot.
Dillon has been on the pole twice, but has placed in the top five just once and the top 10 three times.