Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a reason to smile after Pocono

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 09:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, stands on the grid during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 9, 2013 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

LONG POND, PA – JUNE 09: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, stands on the grid during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 9, 2013 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The last time the NASCAR Sprint Cup series visited Pocono Raceway, last August, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a less than memorable day as the Hendrick Motorsports driver struggled to a 32nd place finish. Fast forward to this past Sunday and Earnhardt found plenty of reasons to smile.

Starting sixth, Earnhardt ran near the front of the field inside the top five for most of the event.  In fact as the laps wound down it looked as though Earnhardt might be the only driver to challenge the eventual race winner and teammate Jimmy Johnson who was the class of the field. He was second to Johnson but didn’t seem to be able to close the gap.

“It looked like to me we got beat through turn three pretty bad,” Earnhardt said.  Jimmie (Johnson) was just real fast through there.”MORE>>>

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