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Thursday, October 02, 2014, 10:17 a.m.
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Pocono 400

Junior jumping for joy

By The Associated Press

This article was published August 4, 2014 at 2:51 a.m.

dale-earnhardt-jr-celebrates-in-victory-lane-after-winning-the-nascar-sprint-cup-series-auto-race-at-pocono-raceway-sunday-aug-3-2014-in-long-pond-pa-ap-photomatt-slocum

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

LONG POND, Pa. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. traded hats, waited for his cue, and flashed three fingers for the cameras.

That's one for every victory this season.

The beer baths, champagne toasts, selfies, and photo opps in Victory Lane are almost routine now for Junior.

He added a new prop for Pocono,.

Earnhardt hoisted the broom high over his head after he completed a season sweep at Pocono Raceway, the third victory in a season that has served as a career renaissance for NASCAR's most popular driver.

Earnhardt now holds the No. 1 seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Can he keep the momentum headed into NASCAR's version of the playoffs?

Earnhardt teased retiring crew chief Steve Letarte about that question.

"You're the broadcaster," Earnhardt said to Letarte.

"You don't," the departing Letarte said. "You're too far from the Chase."

Junior fans roared when Earnhardt stormed to the lead off the final restart with three laps left. His three victories -- two at Pocono and one at the Daytona 500 -- tied him for the most in Sprint Cup this season.

Earnhardt held off the hard-charging Kevin Harvick to become the first driver to sweep both Pocono races since Denny Hamlin in 2006.

He arrived in Pocono earlier in the week and tweeted: "Lookin for a broom."

He found one in Victory Lane.

"This group all really enjoys each other," Earnhardt said. "We want to see everybody happy."

Earnhardt became the fifth consecutive Hendrick Motorsports driver to win at Pocono, dating back to Jeff Gordon's victory in the August 2012 race. Owner Rick Hendrick was not at the race, though he did talk to his winning driver on the phone on pit road.

"I told him thanks for believing in me and making my life better," Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt won six times in 2004, then won four times -- total -- from 2005-2013. He has 22 career victories.

"We had a fast car all day," Earnhardt said. "Steve's strategy was perfect at the end. I don't know if anyone knew what was going on there, but it was pretty awesome."

Earnhardt said before the race his No. 88 Chevrolet was better than his winner in June. They were both fast enough to take the checkered flag. He had a bit of luck in his first win when debris slowed down race leader Brad Keselowski. On Sunday, no one could touch Earnhardt over the final 14 laps.

"We were determined to go home from the last win and improve the car," he said.

Earnhardt and Letarte are clicking in their final season together. Hendrick Motorsports named Greg Ives the crew chief for 2015 once Letarte heads to the broadcast booth.

"I think he's going to make me look bad," Letarte said. "Mr. Hendrick has a remarkable talent of matching drivers with crew chiefs."

Harvick, who clinched a spot in the Chase, was second, followed by Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle.

Gordon finished sixth a week after he won the Brickyard 400. He led a race-high 63 laps and passed 24,000 career laps led in the No. 24 Chevrolet and 1,000 laps led at Pocono. He still holds a 17-point lead over Earnhardt in the standings. Earnhardt would have the No. 1 seed because he was one more win than Gordon.

Earnhardt, who swept a track for the first time since Talladega in 2002, had few cars left to hold off on the lead lap after several potential contenders got knocked out.

Hamlin triggered a 13-car wreck with 43 laps to race after he got sideways coming out of a turn. Brian Vickers tried to avoid Hamlin and slammed into Matt Kenseth to send cars all over the track. The pileup looked like a "Big One" straight out of Talladega or Daytona, with smoking, dented and destroyed cars littering the track. Tony Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet rested atop Paul Menard's No. 27 Chevy.

"I can't drive it because my car is on top of the other car," Stewart said over the radio.

Stewart, Vickers, Menard and Matt Kenseth all visited the NASCAR care center.

"Big wrecks are always frustrating when you're in it," Kenseth said.

Sports on 08/04/2014

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