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OUCH: Tough day for AJ Allmendinger. His first season with Penske Racing has failed to live up to expectations, and Sunday was no exception.

He has only one top five all season, and his 31st-place finish at Pocono because of an accident gave him three finishes in the 30s in the last four races.

“In my worst nightmare, I didn’t think the season would go this bad,” he said. “You’ve got two options. You quit or you keep working harder. I’ve been in six years in this. I’ve experienced bad stuff before in NASCAR, so I’m not going to quit. We’ll just keep working harder.

Allmendinger was caught up in an early-race crash that also took out Landon Cassill. His car couldn’t recover, and he was done after only 64 laps.

“I said, `We need to pit soon. I think the right-front is going away,’” Allmendinger said. “And it went away.”

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JUNIOR’S STREAK: The Streak lives. Make it 143 races and counting since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his last Cup race June 15, 2008, at Michigan.

For a stretch, it seemed Earnhardt might take the checkered flag at Pocono. He led 36 laps in the No. 88 and had it positioned as the car to beat until crew chief Steve Letarte made a call for a late pit stop for gas instead of trying to stretch the fuel to the end.

Earnhardt finished eighth. He supported the call and said he’d take a top-10 finish any time over running out of gas.

“That was the funnest car I’ve had all year and the best car I’ve had at Pocono in a long, long time,” Earnhardt said. “I’m just really trying not to be too upset about it because we did a lot of good things today and we’ve got a lot to look forward to.”

He sure does. Not only is he having his best season in years, but the next stop is, yup, Michigan.

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NEW LEADER: Matt Kenseth finished seventh at Pocono and took the Sprint Cup standings lead. Former leader Greg Biffle finished 24th and dropped behind Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kenseth won the Cup championship in 2003.

“It’s better than being second, but I’m kind of disappointed right now because I thought we had a shot to win under the right circumstances,” Kenseth said. “We’ll keep working on it, but I’m happy we got a decent finish and took over the points lead.”