NASCAR Pocono Notebook: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hoping For Performance Turnaround

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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.”


If it were up to Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski, he wouldn’t wait any longer for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to incorporate the aerodynamic changes used in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race into the Sprint Cup competition package.

In particular, Keselowski favors removing the “skew” or rear axle offset that is allowed under current rules but likely won’t be permitted in the 2017 configuration.

“I am 100 percent of the belief that the All-Star rules package as it pertains to some of the really technical items that control the skew on the car should immediately be implemented everywhere,” Keselowski said on Friday at Pocono Raceway. “I know there are a lot of technical terms in those updates that are may be hard to understand, but I think the basic explanation is that those updates or rules updates are meant to take aerodynamic performance away from the car.

“That’s exactly what the skew does. It adds five or 10-percent aero potential in the car and in doing so dramatically increases the wake behind the car when you have more skew–and taking it out reduces the wake. It is kind of similar between the difference between following a car on the freeway and following a truck. That is the easiest explanation.”

Keselowski felt a noticeable difference between the All-Star package, which will be used on a test basis in upcoming Sprint Cup races at Michigan and Kentucky, and the current 2016 configuration, which was used a week later in the Coca-Cola 600.

“The difference I felt between the two races was that the aerodynamic wake that you can’t see, because it is air, was smaller and more forgiving in the All-Star race,” Keselowski said. “And I think that’s why you saw the racing you did in that race and not so much in the 600.

“I think we have a really strong direction. It’s great that we were able to run those two races back to back on the same track to get that comparison and hopefully everyone else in the sport can agree on that. … I’m a big-time supporter of continuing to take the aerodynamics away from the car to increase the ability to pass in the race.”


In the wake of sponsorship issues that have curtailed his NASCAR XFINITY Series appearances for Richard Petty Motorsports, Jeb Burton is happy for a one-race opportunity to help establish a baseline for the No. 32 GoFas Racing Ford, which has been driven this year by Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Beyond this weekend at Pocono, however, future rides for Burton are uncertain.

“Getting back over here on the Cup side will be fun,” Burton said on Friday at Pocono. “I thank GoFas Racing for giving me the opportunity to come out here and try to improve their program a little bit.

“Right now, this is all I’m going to do. I’ll run here, and I’m not sure what the rest of the season holds for me.”

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