Track Specs: 2.5-mile tri-oval / 160 laps
Weather: Sunny, 72 degrees
Race Winner: Kurt Busch
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 2nd
Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped two positions in the standings with his fourth runner-up result of the season at Monday’s Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400 at Pocono Raceway. Earnhardt and the No. 88 Axalta team rank 11th through 14 races so far this season.
Racing on Monday after rain washed out the event originally scheduled time on Sunday, Earnhardt started eighth and kept his bright red and yellow Chevrolet inside the top 15 throughout the day. Early on, he dropped a few positions while battling a tight condition, but crew chief Greg Ives continued to make chassis adjustments to improve the car on each pit stop.
Ives called a strong race atop the No. 88 pit box as Earnhardt made green-flag pit stops at the right time and capitalized on restarts to continually climb the leaderboard. Earnhardt jumped to seventh on a lap-28 restart and never dropped outside the top 10 for the remainder of the race.
Shortly after halfway, Earnhardt reported debris on the track and Ives quickly called him to pit road for four tires and fuel. When the caution waved two laps later, Earnhardt had gained two positions to restart sixth on the lap 99. By lap 110, Earnhardt jumped three positions on a restart to take third.
A quick stop by the No. 88 Axalta crew vaulted Earnhardt from fifth to the second car on fresh tires for a lap-123 restart. With several cars opting to stay on the track, Earnhardt restarted sixth and jumped to second in half a lap before Jimmie Johnson’s spin brought out yet another caution at lap 123. During the ensuing caution period, race leader Ty Dillon relinquished the lead to hit pit road, giving the No. 88 the lead for the final restart with 33 laps to go.
Earnhardt lined up to the outside of teammate Chase Elliott for the restart and held the lead racing down the Long Pond Straightaway. Elliott appeared to make a move to Earnhardt’s inside and the duo nearly made contact. The move halted both cars’ momentum heading to turn three, giving Kurt Busch the opportunity to sweep by and into the lead.
Down the stretch, all cars fought the delicate balance of trying to press hard for the win while saving enough fuel to go the distance. Busch was able to stretch his fuel long enough to earn his first victory of the season with Earnhardt second, Brad Keselowski third, Elliott fourth and Joey Logano rounding out the top five.