Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to Pocono Raceway with winning on his mind. Last year he swept both NASCAR Sprint Cup events at the 2.5-mile track, becoming only the seventh driver in track history to accomplish this feat. The stakes are even higher this weekend as he attempts to capture a third straight victory. Only two drivers have won three consecutive races at Pocono; Bobby Allison (1982 – 83) and Tim Richmond (1986-87).
Earnhardt has an average finish of 2.5 over the last four races at Pocono and is hopeful that trend will continue Sunday in the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400.
“It seems like guys that run well at Pocono can sustain it. I’ve seen guys sweep there and we were able to do it last year. I like the track, and we have run well there since the repave. I anticipate us being competitive again and hopefully getting three in a row,” Earnhardt said.
If you consider Hendrick Motorsports’’ record at Pocono, Earnhardt has even more reason to be confident, although one of the most significant threats to a three-peat may come from within the organization.
Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers have won the last five races at Pocono and their 17 victories at the track are the most of any team. Seven different drivers have won for HMS including Tim Richmond, Geoff Bodine, Terry Labonte, Gordon, Kahne, Johnson and Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt has seven top-five finishes this season, one win at Talladega and is currently ranked fifth in the point standings. However, the revamped No. 88 team, with new crew chief Greg Ives, has struggled with inconsistency. Last week at Dover Earnhardt had to start from the rear after replacing a broken gear. He was able to move up through the field, but a penalty for speeding on pit road resulted in a disappointing 14th place finish.
This weekend at Pocono, Earnhardt’s greatest challenge will be putting last week’s mistakes behind him. A focused driver, crew chief and pit crew could be all that stands between him, his second victory of the season and that coveted three-peat.
It could also be the beginning of another sweep and the opportunity to add his name to the record books. No driver has ever swept Pocono twice, but Earnhardt will have some competition as Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin compete with him to be the first to do so.