NASCAR Pocono Notebook: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Attempts To Join Select Company At Pocono

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Seth Livingstone ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates victory following the GEICO 500 at Talladega earlier this season (Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates victory following the GEICO 500 at Talladega earlier this season (Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

LONG POND, Pa. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is accustomed to being in select company. This weekend, he seeks to join NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison and Tim Richmond as the only drivers to win three consecutive races at Pocono Raceway.

But Earnhardt, who turned Friday’s fourth-fastest practice lap in preparation for Sunday’s Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1), knows three in a row is a lot to ask.

“It’s difficult to win one,” Earnhardt said. “We won those two races by having some great pit strategy. Steve (former crew chief Letarte) got real aggressive on his pit calls and I think that’s what definitely is going to put you in position to win.”

Earnhardt says the nature of racing at Pocono gives crew chiefs with cars strong enough to lead the race, the option of employing unusual pit strategies. This year, those calls will be up to his first-year crew chief Greg Ives.

“You kind of call this race in reverse,” Earnhardt said. “The tires are pretty tough here and durable, so there’s not a whole lot of fall-off and you can call a race sort of like a road course: Put yourself up front and it makes it pretty difficult to get around you if you’ve got a good car.

“Still, everything’s got to fall in the right place to allow you to make those choices. It worked out great for us last year. (But) we also had a fast car. We ran pretty well, but there were about eight of us in either of those races who could have won.”

If any factor is in Earnhardt’s favor, it’s Hendrick Motorsports recent run of success at Pocono. Hendrick has won the last five Sprint Cup events on the 2.5-mile triangle with Jeff Gordon (2012), Jimmie Johnson (2013), Kasey Kahne (2013) and Earnhardt (2014 sweep).

“We’ve got four fast cars,” Earnhardt said. “This is a horsepower race track where engines can make a difference and I feel like over the last several years, we’ve had one of the best engine programs in the sport. Your car really, really shines here and we’ve got some of the best equipment in the garage.”

Seven drivers, including Johnson (2004) and Denny Hamlin (2006) have won both Sprint Cup events at Pocono in the same season. But success one season hardly ensures success the next. Johnson went nine years after his sweep at Pocono and Hamlin has been up and down since 2006, although he did post consecutive victories in 2009 and 2010 Sprint Cup races.

“I kind of put sweeping here in the same box as sweeping at Daytona or Talladega,” Johnson said. “There are just so many circumstances out of your control at this track. … There are always long green-flag runs and varying strategies. The teams that don’t have the raw speed to race for the win will roll the dice. There are a lot of moving targets. It’s not just a straight-up downforce-style race and I think that increases the difficulty to win here regularly.”

Drivers’ Council Offers In-Car Perspective

Johnson said the NASCAR’s rules package remains the “hot topic” for the Drivers’ Council that met with NASCAR officials for the first time last weekend at Dover.

He says that although NASCAR has “lots of simulation and technology” to determine how cars will respond and compete on track, “we (the drivers) are living it inside the car. We just want to make sure our voice is heard and that the people that make the decisions know what is really going on in the car.”

Although Johnson is not one of the eight driver representative, Earnhardt is.

“I think it’s awesome because you’ve got all the NASCAR guys (together) that you want five minutes with,” Earnhardt said. “Everybody’s in the room to work together and everybody wants the same things – a healthy sport, racing as good as it can be and as safe as it can be.”

One thing Earnhardt doesn’t think will be left up to the drivers is changes to the race schedule. He sees that as a matter left to NASCAR’s governing body, teams owners and tracks. “I don’t expect to be in that conversation,” he said.

Stewart-Haas Locks Up Childers

Kevin Harvick’s championship-winning collaboration with crew chief Rodney Childers will continue for the foreseeable future. Stewart-Haas Racing announced Friday that it has signed Childers to a multiyear contract extension.

In 2014, their first season together at SHR, Childers and Harvick won five races and the NASCAR Sprint Cup title, becoming only the third Sprint Cup team to lead more than 2,000 laps in a season since 2000. The success has continued this season as Harvick has opened a commanding 44-point lead in the point standings, thanks to nine first- or second-place finishes in the first 13 races. Only Bobby Allison (1972) and Cale Yarborough (1977) had as many top-twos to start a season.

Childers, who will turn 39 on Sunday and already had a contract through next season, says he had a sense that things would pay off when he left Michael Waltrip Racing to join SHR.

“I knew when I came to Stewart-Haas Racing that this was a special opportunity,” he said. “Kevin’s skills have always been evident, and his hunger and desire to be the absolute best he can be in every practice, qualifying session and race motivates our entire team. We have great leadership at Stewart-Haas Racing along with a deep commitment toward success, excellent people and strong partners. If you want to win, this is where you want to be, and I’m happy to be here for a long time.”

SHR co-owner Tony Stewart called keeping Childers and Harvick together a “high priority.”

“Rodney Childers and Kevin Harvick set a new standard of excellence in 2014 that they’ve carried into this season,” Stewart said. “We’re obviously very happy to have the two of them at Stewart-Haas Racing for many years to come.”

Pocono Improves The View

Pocono Raceway announced that it will install two new 60-foot video towers, each with two high-definition video screens to provide fans with enhanced views of live action, entertainment and real-time statistics.

“The video displays will provide new views of the race and leaderboard information which previously were not available,” Pocono Raceway President and CEO Brandon Igdalsky said. The 24.15 x 30.45 inch screens from ANC Sports are expected to be operational for the July 31-Aug. 2 Pennsylvania 400 race weekend.

Dillon Meets Real Horsepower

If thoroughbred American Pharaoh wins Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, Ty Dillon jokes that he deserves the credit. Dillon came face to face with the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner while doing a track promotion for Kentucky Speedway.

“We met the assistant trainer,” Dillon said. “He let me go back there and feed him some carrots and (we) watched him walk onto the hauler as he was leaving to go to New York and hopefully win the Triple Crown. If he wins, I’m going to take all the credit.”

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