By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
Since his runner-up finish at Bristol back in April, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had been having a rough go of things in the five races that followed, failing to finish inside the top-10 in any of them, but on Monday at Pocono, Earnhardt returned to form at a track that he has had good luck at in the past.
Starting eighth, Earnhardt struggled early in the race as it looked like Monday’s race might just be a continuation of their performance issues that they had been facing in the handful of races before heading to Pennsylvania, but his No. 88 team was able to get the ship righted after a few adjustments.
Earnhardt cracked the top-five for the first time around lap 90 and powered his way into the race lead at lap 124 just prior to the final caution of the day. On the final restart, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, who had been having a banner day, was able to get around Earnhardt for a lap before Earnhardt retook the lead for the final time at lap 128.
As Earnhardt and Elliott battled for the lead, eventual winner Kurt Busch was able to sneak past both of them to take over the lead and held onto it over the final 32 laps. Fuel remained in question for both Busch and Earnhardt as both drivers had to try and save some over the closing laps, but still run fast enough to stay up front. Earnhardt gave it his all to try and get past Busch, but was unable to do so, finishing the race in second place.
The second place finish was Earnhardt’s fourth runner-up result of the season, fifth top-five finish, and marked six top-five finishes in the last seven races at Pocono.
“It was a good run for us. I should have been able to hold that No. 41 (Kurt Busch) off on that final restart. Me and the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) was racing pretty hard and it gave the No. 41 the opportunity to get a run on us. I should have been able to defend that a little bit better. If I could have got in front of him I don’t think he would have got by us. The car wasn’t all we hoped it would be, but it was good. They worked on it and improved it. We were real tight starting the day and we just kept freeing it up. We got it pretty decent at the end, but still not where we want to be. We will work on it and come back and try to do a little better job the next race here,” said Earnhardt, Jr.
With the runner-up finish, Earnhardt hopes that the momentum will lead to more prosperity down the road as the season progresses through the summer months heading toward the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“It certainly feels better than finishing 15th. You know, and the car wasn’t that bad. We just have such high standards after the last couple years we’ve had. Man, when you get just a little bit behind in this series, holy moly, it takes so much work to just regain what you lost, not really even to have an advantage, just to get back to where you were. A tenth out on that racetrack is impossible to find.”
“You know, it’s a good step in the right direction. I felt like we could come in here and run good, and I think we learned a lot that we can understand how to get better for the next race here. I’m looking forward to Michigan, and obviously it’s going to be a different package, but I think we’ll run good on that track, too, and anticipate having a good run at Kentucky. We’ve always done really well on the repaves, so for whatever reason our cars hook up pretty good, or as a driver I just like that.”