Junior's win was one of the most popular in Pocono history and a boost for the sport

Earnhardt's improbable first victory at Pocono was greeted with lots of enthusiasm.

The Pocono 400 was over for nearly an hour and hundreds of people were still mingling in the paddock area of Pocono Raceway early Sunday night with cameras and cellphones poised to get a glimpse of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

There were still plenty of whoops and hollers and shouts of "Atta boy Junior!" to be heard as haulers of the other racing teams packed up their gear and headed for the exits.

Many fans tooted their horn as they got on the track in their cars and passed the grandstand where the celebration was still going on.

Guaranteed that had Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon or anyone else won, the postrace party would have been muted by comparison.

If there is a rock star in NASCAR it's clearly Junior and his win at Pocono may have been the most popular of any in the 40 years they've been running stock cars on the vast 21/2 mile track off Long Pond Road.

It was Earnhardt's second win of the season, clinching his first multi-win season since 2004, but this one may have been even more important than his first win — the Daytona 500.

Daytona 500 is the sport's Super Bowl and its winner is always a big deal.

But June is the dog days of the nine-month marathon that is the Sprint Cup series and if anyone can give the sport a lift at a time when it gets lost in the shuffle, it's Earnhardt.

Never mind that this was somewhat of a lucky win for the No. 88.

Even he acknowledged that Brad Keselowski had the faster car, but Keselowski, who led for 95 of the 160 laps, had the kind of luck that Earnhardt had encountered in many of his 28 previous starts at Pocono.

A piece of paper — debris on the grille — took down Keselowski.

Earnhardt, a friend of Keselowski, said: "That's unfortunate for him, but I lost some in some strange ways, so it feels good to win one like that."

It feels good for Earnhardt to win any race because frankly, it hasn't happened all that often over the past decade.

And as good as it feels for him and his Hendrick Motorsports team, it's even better for the series, which could use its most popular driver to at the forefront to generate interest.

Perhaps only a Danica Patrick win would be more beneficial for NASCAR, which continues to struggle to regain the popularity it had in the 1990s when Earnhardt's father was its biggest star.

After winning six races in 2004, Earnhardt won just four races, combined, over the next nine seasons.

Even the move to the Yankees of NASCAR — Hendrick — in 2008 didn't seem to energize his career.

Sunday's win snapped teammate Jimmie Johnson's two-race winning streak and locked him into the Chase for the Cup — NASCAR's unofficial 10-race playoff system in the fall.

Earnhardt was happy for his fans, for retiring crew chief Steve Letarte and everyone connected to his team, but he's not quite ready for the Johnson comparisons just yet. He knows how fortunes, perceptions ... everything in this sport change from week to week.

"Easy now," he said when someone asked him if the No. 88 is the new No. 48 (Johnson).

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