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Junior, Junior, Junior — Earnhardt makes it 3 wins in 2014 with Pocono sweep (updated)

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Just like he did in his June win there, Dale Earnhardt Jr. rallied in the latter stages of Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 to sweep both races of the season at Pocono Raceway.

Earnhardt took the lead from Greg Biffle on Lap 147 and never looked back, eventually building a more than three-second lead.

Even a late race caution brought out by Kurt Busch hitting the wall on Lap 153 of the 160-lap event did not keep Earnhardt from victory lane. He had an excellent restart on Lap 157 and powered his way to the win, holding off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick, who finished second.

Earnhardt now has three victories this season, starting with a triumphant win in the season-opening Daytona 500. He’s tied with Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski for most wins thus far in 2014.

It’s also the fifth consecutive win at Pocono for Hendrick Motorsports drivers.

Earnhardt predicted before the race that Sunday’s car was even better than the ride that carried him to victory in the June race at the 2.5-mile tri-oval – and he wound up being spot-on.

“I was just trying to hold (Harvick) off, they were faster than my car,” Earnhardt told ESPN after the race. “I was overdriving it, not rolling the center very good and Kevin was getting me in (turns) one and two.

“We had a fast car all day. Steve’s strategy was perfect at the end. That was real awesome. It takes a real smart guy to know what to do and to take those gambles. Sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don’t. I can’t believe we swept Pocono.

“We definitely went home after the last race and made our car better. They went and didn’t sit on what we did last time. They wanted us to get better and be a faster car, where we didn’t need a little luck to have to win.”

Harvick, who officially clinched his berth in the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup, gave Earnhardt all he could handle in the final three laps, but just came up a bit short.

“To not have wrecked my car (and) I got a speeding penalty (earlier),” Harvick said of what kept him from catching Earnhardt. “This hasn’t been one of my best tracks.

“I made a lot of mistakes today and (his crew) made up for it with a fast race car.”

Joey Logano finished third, followed by Clint Bowyer and Biffle.

Biffle looked as if he might have enough to take the win, but when Earnhardt got past him, there wasn’t much Biffle could do from that point on.

“I’m heartbroken that that caution came out when the 47 (AJ Allmendinger on Lap 140) blew a tire. That just killed our day,” Biffle said. “Kevin and I were out there, it was going to be Mickey Mouse, who would run out of fuel.

“When you have a 15th-place car, you have to play strategy to get there and win these races. … We’re not happy with the way we’re competing. We want to compete for these wins, and the 88 and those Hendrick cars are pretty fast. So, we’ll keep working at it.”

But there was some good news after the race for Biffle: he moved up to 16th in the Race to the Chase standings with five races remaining. Biffle is still seeking his first win, as well as other drivers that are in the top-16 after Pocono, including Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and rookie Kyle Larson.

Sixth through 10th were Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Newman, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.

“Awesome, awesome car today,” said Gordon, who led a race-high 63 laps. “We had the dominant car but you had to have track position and there at the end, we didn’t have it.

“With Dale getting out in front of us on that pit sequence, there was nothing we could do. He was really good. Whoever got out in front, him or me, was going to win this race.”

Pole-sitter Larson finished 11th, followed by Casey Mears, Kurt Busch, Marcos Ambrose, rookie Austin Dillon, Justin Allgaier in 16th, David Gilliland, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Ragan and Ryan Truex in 20th.

The next race is next Sunday on the road course at Watkins Glen International.

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Wehrlein “feels ready” for job of replacing Rosberg, if he gets seat

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 20:  (EDITORS NOTE: This image was processed using digital filters) Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Mercedes GP poses for a portrait during day three of Formula One Winter Testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 21, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Pascal Wehrlein is the potential lynchpin in the race to replace Nico Rosberg, now fully underway after the shock news of the 2016 World Champion’s decision to retire has come down and now set in.

The Mercedes AMG Petronas reserve driver and Manor race driver from this season did a thoroughly good – if not outstanding – job in his first full season in Formula 1 and could well be the pick to replace Rosberg alongside Lewis Hamilton next season.

Wehrlein is confident in his ability and expressed his candidacy for the job while accepting rookie-of-the-year honors at last night’s Autosport Awards.

“One season in Formula 1 of course is not a lot, but I feel ready for the job,” Wehrlein said. “I feel confident enough.

“Now the decision is on the bosses. I guess Toto’s (Wolff) phone is overheating since Friday! I respect that process and that they want to go to the best option.”

Pushed a bit further, Wehrlein also offered a sneaky sense of humor in noting how much testing he’s already done on a modified chassis with Pirelli’s new-for-2017 tires.

“I’ve done the most days with 2017 tires. It’s very important to have that experience,” he laughed.

Wehrlein could well get the nod by way of his availability. However if Mercedes opts to buy out another tied-down driver’s contract, it could well end up that Wehrlein might be placed elsewhere on the grid.

Despite losing out on the Force India seat to fellow Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon, Wehrlein’s stock has never been higher.

Ryan Norman confirmed for Andretti Indy Lights program

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As NBC Sports reported over the weekend, Ryan Norman has been confirmed as third driver for Andretti Autosport’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires program in 2017.

Norman joins the previously announced Dalton Kellett (No. 28 K-LINE Insulators, USA Mazda) and Nico Jamin (No. 27 Synova Mazda). Norman, out of Cleveland, won this year’s Atlantic Championship and will drive the No. 48 Flip Side Mazda. He’s tested for the team this winter.

“I’m very excited to join Andretti Autosport for the 2017 Indy Lights Season,” said Norman. “With their great success in IndyCar and Indy Lights, it is the perfect environment for me to learn and grow as a driver. I want to thank Michael Andretti and the rest of the team for this wonderful opportunity and I hope to bring great results to the team this coming year.”

“We have been following Ryan’s achievements in Formula Atlantic and feel he will do equally well, if not better, in Indy Lights,” J-F Thormann, President of Andretti Autosport, added. “Ryan has tested for the team several times this offseason and has impressed us with how quickly he has adapted to the car. We are looking forward to seeing what the 2017 season has in store for us and are thrilled to have three of our four Indy Lights entries announced.”

As noted by Thormann above, the team has confirmed four Indy Lights entries for 2017. From what we’ve heard, the fourth driver could well be an intriguing young American.

Rainguard Water Sealers signs on as Texas IndyCar title sponsor

FORT WORTH, TX - AUGUST 27: Alexander Rossi driver of the #98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda leads Helio Castroneves driver of the #3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on August 27, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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Cue the jokes about how Texas Motor Speedway’s new Verizon IndyCar Series race title sponsor, Rainguard Water Sealers, was a year late, as track drying delays from rain helped postpone this year’s race from June to August.

But the new title sponsor is on board for the next three years, through whatever weather exists at TMS. Which is a good thing, because it confirms both the race and the sponsor through 2019.

“We extremely pleased to have Texas Motor Speedway and ‘America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race’ serve as the initial sponsorship venture into motorsports and sports in general for Rainguard Water Sealers,” Eddie Gossage, Texas Motor Speedway president, said in a release. “We look forward to providing Rainguard with an exceptional first experience as an entitlement sponsor and help the company attain their goals through this sponsorship agreement.”

Firestone has been the race’s title sponsor of what is now the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 since 2010. Prior to that, Bombardier Learjet sponsored the race from 2005 to 2009, when Texas dropped from having two races on the annual IndyCar calendar down to one.

Rainguard was founded in 1969 as a manufacturer of architectural grade coatings used in the construction industry, and developed speciality sealer products starting in 2010.

French Grand Prix return made official for 2018

Ivan Capelli driver of the #16 Leyton House Racing Leyton House CG901 Judd celebrates his and the teams second place finish at the French Grand Prix on 8 July 1990 at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France (Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)
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After a decade off the Formula 1 calendar, the French Grand Prix has been formally confirmed to return in 2018. The race was confirmed at a press conference in France on Monday, after reports emerged late last week it was coming back.

The race, which was at Circuit de Nevers in Magny-Cours from the 1990s through to the most recent race there in 2008, will be held at Circuit Paul Ricard (Le Castellet) instead. Paul Ricard though was the site host for 14 races between 1971 and 1990.

Christian Estrosi, the president of the regional authority of Provence and the Cote d’Azur, announced the deal for the race which is likely to be held in late July. That time frame had featured the German Grand Prix along withe Hungarian Grand Prix.

“Losing the grand prix was a true scar for our country,” Estrosi said at the Automobile Club de France, via the ACO. “I can today make the firm and definitive announcement that the Grand Prix de France will return at the Paul Ricard circuit as soon as the 2018 summer.”

Estrosi paid tribute to the late driver Jules Bianchi, who died last year following a long battle to recover from major head injuries sustained at the Japanese GP in October 2014.

“I’m dedicating this big return to my friend Jules,” Estrosi said. “My thoughts are with his family.”

Jean Todt, the president of motorsports’ world governing body, said the return of the French GP is an “enormous satisfaction” for FIA.

The 2017 calendar was only just confirmed following the latest meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council last week, with a drop to 20 races following the German race’s departure.

With the French Grand Prix back on, that would kick the number of races back up to 21 for 2018 unless another shoe drops and another race falls back off the calendar instead. Provided Germany would come back in 2018 at Hockenheim, that could add another wrinkle to the 2018 calendar planning.

Associated Press contributed to this report