LONG POND, Pa. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. traded hats, waited for his cue, and flashed three fingers for the cameras.
That’s one for every win.
The beer baths, champagne toasts, selfies, and photo opps in Victory Lane are almost routine now for Junior.
He added a new wrinkle at Pocono, a broom.
Earnhardt hoisted the broom high over his head after he completed a season sweep at Pocono Raceway, the third win 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?
You’re the broadcaster, Earnhardt teased crew chief Steve Letarte about that question.
You don’t, the departing Letarte said. You’re too far from the Chase.
The legion of Junior Nation fans roared when Earnhardt stormed ahead of the pack off the final restart with three laps left for the lead. His third win, he also won 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 races at the track since Denny Hamlin in 2006.
He tweeted Lookin for a broom last week when he landed in Pocono.
He found one in Victory Lane.
This group all really enjoys each other, Earnhardt said. We want to see everybody happy.
They had tons of fun inside the Pocono media center.
Letarte acted hurt when his nameplate didn’t have the same three winner’s stickers that were on Earnhardt’s card. Earnhardt also brought a Make-A-Wish Foundation teen to the podium and made sure he’d have his own namecard and stickers.
This is my buddy, Chris. Does he get one, Earnhardt said.
They all got their stickers – the same ones applied to the No. 88 Chevrolet.
Earnhardt also became the fifth straight Hendrick Motorsports driver to win at Pocono. 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’s sweep followed Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson last year and Jeff Gordon in the August 2012 race.
Earnhardt has his most wins since he won six times in 2004. His three wins are one shy of his combined total from 2005-2013. His win Sunday was the 22nd of a career still without a Cup championship.
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.
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 Boywer and Greg Biffle. Gordon finished sixth.