Earnhardt encouraged by strong finish at Pocono

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LONG POND, PA. (AP) - Dale Earnhardt Jr. had two chances in the final 10 laps to beat Jimmie Johnson off a restart.

He couldn’t make the timely pass _ or even hold on to second.

But Earnhardt’s third-place finish Sunday at Pocono Raceway was his second straight top-10 finish and third in the last four starts.

Earnhardt was encouraged, not only by the finish, but for what it might mean for next week.

He was in contention at Pocono last season before settling for eighth, then snapped a four-year winless streak the next week at Michigan International Speedway.

Up next, Michigan.

“Hopefully, going to Michigan, we’ve got a good package,” Earnhardt said. “When we get there, we’ll see. But so far, it’s been real similar to last year. We were strong here last year.”

Earnhardt’s performance had tailed off a bit after opening the season with five straight top 10s, including two runner-up finishes. He’s still a solid fourth in the standings and should be in contention to win his first championship during the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

“We’ve been carrying momentum for a good solid year now,” he said. “We started the year off this year off really good. We just had a lot of problems since then and just struggled to get good finishes. We are all right. We know what we need to do. Confidence is there. All the fans can rest assured we feel like we are on the right track.”

That’s a lot of fans considering Earnhardt is NASCAR’s most popular driver. Johnson, who led 128 laps for his third win of the season, said his Hendrick Motorsports teammate was pointed toward Victory Lane.

“They’re clicking,” Johnson said. “They’re doing a great job.”

…….

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