Drenched in sweat after completing 400 miles at Pocono Raceway on a sizzling hot summer day last August, an ecstatic Dale Earnhardt Jr. raised a push broom over his head in triumph to celebrate his season sweep of the two races at the track known as the “Tricky Triangle.”
Earnhardt hopes to celebrate again this weekend as he returns to Pocono for Sunday’s Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
The 12-time most popular driver can join NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison (1982–83) and Tim Richmond (1986-87) as the only competitors to notch three consecutive wins at Pocono. Seven wheelmen have swept Pocono in their careers and Earnhardt, along with Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson can become the first drivers to do it twice.
“It seems like guys that run well at Pocono can sustain it,” Earnhardt said. “I've seen guys sweep there and we were able to do it last year.”
Earnhardt had never won at Pocono until last year, but has been successful at the Pennsylvania track since its repave in 2012 with finishes of eighth, 32nd, third and fifth prior to his two wins last season.
“I like the track, and we have run well there since the repave,” he said. “I anticipate us being competitive again and hopefully getting three in a row.”
The drivers Earnhardt should be most worried about ending his Pocono win streak: His Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
Hendrick Motorsports has won the last five Pocono races with all four of its drivers: Earnhardt (2014 sweep), Kasey Kahne (2013 summer), Johnson (2013 spring) and Jeff Gordon (2012 summer).
“The track is all about compromise to find the best total speed possible,” explained Kahne’s crew chief, Keith Rodden. “The best part about the races there of late is the multiple strategies that the teams employ to try to get ahead of one another. It is very exciting on top of the pit box.”
Johnson has all the momentum going into the race after taking the checkered flag last week in Dover for his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series-leading fourth win. Already virtually qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet driver can take a “win or wreck” approach because he can gain three bonus points for NASCAR’s playoffs with every victory he accumulates.
“(I’m) just excited to get up there, and what's neat about the position we're in with these wins, fuel strategy is such a player in how the outcome of that race works out, and we can go up there and not care,” Johnson said. “So that gives us an advantage, and the guys with wins right now can take advantage of that situation in the race on Sunday.”