Dale Jr. contends for win, finishes third at Pocono

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Stuck on the inside lane during the final restarts of Sunday’s Sprint Cup event at Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew that he would have to play defense in order to come out with a solid finish.

Earnhardt had two chances on restarts with nine and then four laps to go to get past race winner and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, but was unable to make the low groove work for him and was forced to settle for third place after Greg Biffle got past.

“Being on the inside on the front row really ain’t the catbird seat,” said Earnhardt after his first Top-5 run since finishing second at Fontana in March. “The guys behind you can get good runs on you and put you three wide, and I was just really more in defense mode there. If I had a shot at Jimmie, by the time we got to [Turn] 1, that was a bonus.

“They could get around outside pretty good, Greg got in there and got around us. The outside was pretty nice in [Turns] 1 and 2 on restarts.”

Earnhardt felt that Johnson had the edge over everyone in Turn 3, which leads down the long frontstretch at Pocono and thus serves as the most critical of the turns at the “Tricky Triangle.”

“Jimmie beat us bad through Turn 3,” he said. “If he was stronger, that’s where I thought he was stronger than the field. We actually gained a little bit back through 1 and 2, but he was just flying through Turn 3 and down the front straightaway, and if you’re going to be good here, that’s where you’ve got to be good.”

Next up for Junior is Michigan International Speedway, where he won last June to snap a winless streak of 143 races.

Donny Schatz edges Kyle Larson for Outlaws victory at Lake Ozark

Trent Gower/World of Outlaws
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Donny Schatz made a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, snatching a World of Outlaws victory Saturday night at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Larson started on the pole, led 30 of 35 laps and was in control until a caution set up a two-lap shootout to the finish before a limited crowd in Eldon, Missouri.

Schatz and Larson traded the lead twice over the final two laps, but the 10-time champion emerged with his first victory since the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series returned in mid-May from a two-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

‘THEY’VE STUCK BEHIND ME’: Kyle Larson comments on future, Outlaws plans

“Man, I don’t know what to say, but Kyle’s a damn good racer,” Schatz, who led five laps, told DirtVision after his 296th Outlaws win. “I kind of had to go where he didn’t. We got that green-white-checkered, and I decided I was going to send it. He decided the same thing.

Donny Schatz celebrates at Lake Ozark Speedway after his second Outlaws Sprint Car victory of the season (Trent Gower).

“I’m glad to get the win. It feels like it’s been forever. I’ve been out here 24 years, and every night is a learning experience still.”

Larson finished second in his fifth start since he began racing with the Outlaws after being suspended from NASCAR.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to get the win,” Larson said on DirtVision. “I figured Donny would rip the middle. The restarts before, he’d almost clear me in (turns) 3 and 4. I should have known to protect and block his momentum. I felt I exited 2 OK. We don’t have spotters or rearview mirrors so you can’t see how close he is or really hear it when the pace is so slow.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job to run a smarter final couple of laps.”

Brad Sweet, Larson’s brother in law, finished third, with Shane Stewart and David Gravel rounding out the top five.

Larson rebounded from a 10th in Friday’s feature at Lake Ozark Speedway, continuing his streak of top-10 finishes in all five of his starts since the Outlaws’ return.

“We got our car a lot better from last night, so that was a plus,” said Larson, who finished second and first in back-to-back nights last week at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at Pevely, Missouri. “These guys are really tough. To be on the podium with Donny and Brad, they’ve won lots of big races and championships, it’s nice. I just didn’t do what I needed to do that last restart.”

Larson nearly had a flawless night Saturday, turning a 11.426-second lap to capture his second pole position this season and won the pole dash to start first in the feature.

Larson, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing from his NASCAR Cup Series ride last month for using a racial slur in an iRacing event, said last week that he plans to run several more NOS Energy Sprint Car Series races this year.

Larson remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR but was approved to race by the Outlaws after completing sensitivity training.