Instead of becoming the third driver to ever win three-straight races at Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in 11th knowing it should have been a better day.
“We should have finished third,” Earnhardt said Tuesday on his “The Dale Jr. Download” podcast. “We gave up some spots racing too hard, but we can race too hard because we’ve got the win, we’re locked in the Chase, and nothing really matters but wins. Second, 10th, it doesn’t matter. We just go out there and have fun. We’ve got good speed, we know we want to be able to take that speed into the Chase, and that’s what matters is just having fast cars.”
After starting 20th Sunday in the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400, Earnhardt sped his way into the top 10, where ninth was his average running position for most of the race. He would run as high as second, but any chances of a win ended with 35 laps left when he accidentally hit teammate Kasey Kahne while trying to avoid a slow Brad Keselowski.
“I was kind of getting up under (Keselowski), and when he got loose he sort of yanked the car, corrected the car down the track in front of me,” Earnhardt described. “I don’t know if I would have sat still whether we would have hit or not, but I kind of yanked my car to the left and it was a bit of an overreaction into the (No.) 5 car and slammed him pretty hard.”
That contact damaged the No. 88 enough to send it falling out of the top 10.
“It ruined my car, anyways; I don’t know what it did to the 5 (Kahne),” Earnhardt said. “It definitely didn’t do anything good to it, but it hurt our car a lot. We struggled with cars passing us and trying to get the car back underneath me.”
With his 11th-place finish, Earnhardt is fifth in the points standings, 94 points behind leader Kevin Harvick. Though Earnhardt was disappointed in the outcome, he knows his team is in a good position thanks to his Talladega win earlier this year.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver is also comfortable with where the Sprint Cup Series is going this weekend: Michigan International Speedway.
The track was the site of two of Earnhardt’s 24-career Sprint Cup wins (2008, ’12). They were also his only wins between 2006 and 2014. In 31 starts at the 2-mile track, Earnhardt has an average finish of 15.6 and seven top five and 10 top-10 finishes.
“We’ve got to get a little better to beat (Harvick), to have those guys covered and at least be able to race with them a little bit, but (I’m) pretty thrilled and looking forward to Michigan,” Earnhardt said. “It’s a great racetrack for us, and obviously we come back to Pocono in August, so that’s going to be great.”