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Strong finish at Pocono moves Dale Earnhardt Jr. up 2 spots in standings

- dscott@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, Jun. 09, 2013

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes Sunday rekindled what started as a promising season.

Earnhardt finished third in NASCAR’s Party In The Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway, his best finish on the Sprint Cup circuit since beginning the season with five consecutive top-five finishes. In the next races, however, Earnhardt managed just two top-10 finishes. Included in that stretch was a 39th-place finish at Charlotte, where his engine gave out midway through the race.

“It was good for us to get a good run,” said Earnhardt of his day at Pocono. “We were counting on sort of rebounding. We haven’t had a good last couple of months. Cars haven’t been that fast and we’ve had some issues here and there.”

With Jimmie Johnson showing the way Sunday with easily the race’s strongest car, Earnhardt and the rest of the field never had much of a chance. But his third-place finish allowed him to move up two places in the points standings to fourth. He’s still 82 points behind leader Johnson but just 13 behind third-place Clint Bowyer.

And next up for Earnhardt is the Quicken Loans 400 next Sunday at Michigan – a race he won last season, breaking what was then a 143-race winless streak. Like Pocono, Michigan International Raceway has been repaved recently, which suits Earnhardt.

“The repaves, we ran well last year,” Earnhardt said. “We (had) a good package going to Pocono and going to Michigan. We’ll see when we get (to Michigan). But so far it’s been real similar to last year.”

As Earnhardt and his No. 88 team prepare for Michigan, they’ll work with teammate Johnson at their Hendrick Motorsports shop in Concord. That’s something of which Earnhardt says he and crew chief Steve Letarte always try to take advantage.

“They win championships,” said Earnhardt of the No. 48 team. “They win a lot of races. (Johnson) is going to have his opportunities all year long. It’s fortunate enough for me I get to be in the same shop as those guys. I get to lean on them and I get to know exactly what’s happening under the hood. I can learn and use that to my advantage.

“He’s one of the best drivers the sport has ever seen and Chad Knaus is probably one of the smartest crew chiefs the sport has ever seen.”

Johnson said he understands the importance of working with his teammate.

“They grow stronger and stronger each week,” said Johnson of Earnhardt’s team. “There’s a bright light on those guys and what they do week in and week out. They’re strong and they elevate their teammates. We certainly do all we can to help them out and help them grow and get stronger. But they’re clicking and doing a great job.”

Scott: 705-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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