Earnhardt hopes Pocono is start of performance turnaround

Dale Earnhardt Jr. on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta "We Paint Winners" 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 3, 2016 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 3, 2016 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

LONG POND, Pa. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is used to the questions.

Every time his on-track performance falls off–for whatever reason—everyone, it seems, wants to know why.

Friday’s media session at Pocono was no exception. After three second-place finishes in the first eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of the season, Earnhardt has failed to crack the top 10 in five subsequent events and has slipped from sixth to 13th in the standings.

Accordingly, it was no surprise a couple of variations of the question, “What’s wrong?” came up.

“I’ve been racing in this series a long time, and I’ve been asked that question dozens and dozens of times, like ‘Where do you need to improve?’–no matter what team I was racing for, no matter what year is was. Even if you knew you wouldn’t tell. I mean you can’t say ‘Them guys in the body shop, they need to get going.’

“You’re not going to throw anybody under the bus. The majority of the time you don’t know. The majority of the time, there’s no way to really put your finger on the exact area where you’re getting beat. You look at a car in the garage area, you look across at the guy that is really running well, and his car doesn’t look … nothing stands out.”

Accordingly, it’s extremely difficult for one team to spot the source of another team’s advantage. This year, for instance, the Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Toyotas have established-season dominance, leaving their rivals to speculated about the source of their speed.

“You’re looking at everything they’re doing,” Earnhardt said of the competition. “You watch a guy real close all weekend make changes and go through the process of the whole weekend, and nothing really stands out. Their body doesn’t look better than my body. Their motor can’t be better than my motor.

“It’s just a combination of dozens of things, doing everything right, preparing and working hard. Somebody’s got to win and somebody’s got to lose. You’re not always going to be the fastest guy. You just keep coming up to the race track and showing up and trying to find that advantage that no one else has.”

Earnhardt hopes that process will start in Sunday’s Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400 at Pocono (1 p.m. ET on FS1), where the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet has scored eight top 10s in his last 10 starts, including a sweep of both races at the Tricky Triangle in 2014.

“This is a track where I really enjoy racing at and have had some good success here of late,” Earnhardt said. “It seems to be a track where we’ve been pretty consistent each time we show up. And the car felt pretty good in the (rain-shortened) first practice, even though we only got a few laps there.

“But, it was pretty much in the ballpark as far as the balance goes. Hopefully, we’ll get some good practice (Saturday) so we can see what the rest of the field has got and kind of understand exactly where we are in comparison to everyone else and go from there.”

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