Four tires, two tires or no tires?
Jeff Gordon, the driver who had been the best throughout Sunday's race at Pocono, took four tires on his final pit stop. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who hadn't been as good as Gordon throughout the race, took no tires and just fuel.
The time that Junior saved on pit road got him to victory lane.
Because he took no tires on his pit stop, Junior was ahead of Gordon when Gordon re-entered the track and Junior powered around Greg Biffle following a late restart for his third win of the season.
"We had a fast car all day," Junior said. "(Crew chief Steve Letarte)'s strategy was perfect at the end – I don't know if anyone knew what was going on man but that was pretty awesome. It takes a really really smart guy to understand what to do to take those gambles and sometimes they pay off and sometimes they don't. I can't believe we swept Pocono."
Yes, Earnhardt Jr. won at Pocono in June too. In that race, he passed Brad Keselowski as Keselowski was trying to clean debris off his grille while leading in the late laps. The momentary slowdown allowed Junior to get by.
Sunday, it wasn't because of a piece of trash. Both Junior and Gordon pitted inside of 30 laps to go under green because laps at Pocono are so lengthy that drivers don't lose a lap when pitting under green. Gordon and Gustrafson opted for fresh tires after Junior and Letarte decided not to take them and he never had a chance to fully utilize them as two cautions flew from then until the the end.
"It wasn't just the restarts, Gordon said. "Those guys knew they had to do the exact opposite strategy of us but (crew chief Alan Gustafson) and the team just did an amazing job today ... We had the dominant car but you had to have track position and there at the end we didn't have it."
When the first caution came out, Junior wasn't in the lead. Greg Biffle was, but shortly after the green flag waved again, Junior drove around Biffle and powered away. At that point, it looked like it was going to be a clear win for Earnhardt Jr. Well, until Kurt Busch hit the wall, setting up a four lap sprint to the finish.
Kevin Harvick, who had sped on pit road and been part of a 12-car melee earlier in the race, was in second behind Junior and was near his back bumper for the majority of the four laps. But he couldn't get close enough to attempt a pass.
It's Junior's third race win of the season and thanks to a four-year winless stretch, he already has as many wins this year as he did from 2006-2013 combined. Yes, really.
Plus, Junior is now tied with Brad Keselowski and teammate Jimmie Johnson for the most wins on the season, meaning that the three are tentatively tied for the top seed in the Chase. Much like Jeff Gordon last week at Indianapolis, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a serious contender for the championship. But unlike Gordon, this may be Junior's best shot. The question is not if Junior can win the 2014 title, it's if he will.
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