Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having a blast again, with a shared bond with his crew, comfort in his own skin as NASCAR's most popular driver, even finding fun 140 characters at a time on Twitter.
Winning races sure has a way of easing burdens on Junior.
Earnhardt turned Brad Keselowski's trash into Victory Lane treasure, pulling away down the stretch Sunday at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., for his second win of the season and a secured spot in the Chase field.
He paired his first career win at Pocono with his Daytona 500 championship for his first multi-win season since 2004.
"I feel like I'm such a lucky guy to have this second opportunity again to be competitive," Earnhardt said.
But for as strong as he ran in the No. 88 Chevrolet, Keselowski gift-wrapped this win when he yielded the lead with five laps left in a desperate attempt to clear debris from his grill and cool his overheated engine.
Keselowski's gamble backfired — he couldn't get the draft needed from the lapped traffic to clear his car and make one final pass for the win on Earnhardt. Keselowski's No. 2 Ford still had the oomph in the engine needed to finish the race, and he had his second straight runner-up finish.
"It was definitely a mistake because the engine made it," Keselowski said, rubbing his face. "It probably shouldn't have."
Earnhardt shook off the rising red gauges in the No. 88 that could have had his car meet a similar fate as Keselowski.
"They were still within good reason to stand on it and give it hell," he said.
Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and rookie Kyle Larson completed the top five.
Earnhardt gave Hendrick Motorsports three straight wins, following consecutive victories by Jimmie Johnson. Johnson overcame a pit road accident to finish sixth.
Owner Rick Hendrick texted Earnhardt before the race to let him know he would not attend and would see him next week at Michigan. Earnhardt told him, "I'll drink one for you after it's over."
Earnhardt stuck to his end of the deal, spraying all types of beverages in a jubilant Victory Lane. Johnson was the first driver over to congratulate him.
I don't have much to do tomorrow," Earnhardt said, grinning. "Tonight's going to be a long one."
Earnhardt, long NASCAR's most popular driver, gave the Pocono crowd plenty of reason to go wild. He was mobbed by almost 100 fans outside the Pocono media center, screaming his name and clamoring for a picture with the winner.
He waved and ducked into a waiting car, whisked away for another party.
Maybe the fans should try tweeting at him to earn his attention.
A reluctant participant on Twitter for years, Earnhardt warmed fast to the social media site after winning Daytona. He said he underestimated the amount of fun he'd have interacting with fans. He loved the "go get 'ems" that dot his feed, though it's the "haters" that he really feeds off.
"The real short ones, like, 'You suck,' those are the best ones," he said, smiling. "I just favorite them and block them. It's so much fun."
Earnhardt's second win means he is guaranteed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. He won for the 29th time in 519 career Sprint Cup starts.
"When we won at Daytona, man, it made the rest of the year a lot more relaxing, a lot easier," he said. "It makes it fun because you can just go to the track and just race, not worry about points."
Ricciardo wins in Montreal
Daniel Ricciardo may be coming out of the shadow of his more celebrated Red Bull teammate.
The 24-year-old Australian won the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal to earn his first career Formula One victory, joining four-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel on the podium and snapping Mercedes' stranglehold on the circuit this season.
Ricciardo's win was the first win this year for any driver other than Nico Rosberg, the pole-sitter and championship leader, and Lewis Hamilton, a three-time Canadian GP champion. But the twin Mercedes Silver Arrows were forced to slow down midway through the race to keep their brakes from overheating, and Ricciardo was able to take advantage.
"The race came to life at the end," said Ricciardo, who passed Rosberg with two laps to go. "It's still a little bit surreal. It's not like we were leading the whole race, so it's not like I had time to understand that I was going to win."
Rosberg finished second under a caution caused during a last-lap crash between Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez, easily protecting his lead in the championship standings. The German has 140 of a possible 175 points through seven races, with two victories and five second-place finishes. Hamilton, who went to the garage after 46 laps when his brakes overheated, remains second in the standings with 118 points.
With two fourth-place finishes, two thirds and a victory in his last five races, Ricciardo moved up to third with 79 points, passing Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who was sixth and has 69 points. Vettel, who won in Montreal last year, earned 15 points for his third-place finish and is fifth in the standings with 60 points.
"We still have a lot of work ahead of us, because the Mercedes are still quite a bit quicker," he said.
Drivers had to contend with track temperatures of 118 degrees at the start, on a sun-drenched day at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on the Ile de Notre Dame near downtown Montreal. The track, home to the Canadian Grand Prix since 1978, will get a face lift as part of a 10-year extension announced Saturday to keep the race in town through 2024.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun