Stuck on the inside lane during the final restarts of Sunday’s Sprint Cup event at Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew that he would have to play defense in order to come out with a solid finish.
Earnhardt had two chances on restarts with nine and then four laps to go to get past race winner and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, but was unable to make the low groove work for him and was forced to settle for third place after Greg Biffle got past.
“Being on the inside on the front row really ain’t the catbird seat,” said Earnhardt after his first Top-5 run since finishing second at Fontana in March. “The guys behind you can get good runs on you and put you three wide, and I was just really more in defense mode there. If I had a shot at Jimmie, by the time we got to [Turn] 1, that was a bonus.
“They could get around outside pretty good, Greg got in there and got around us. The outside was pretty nice in [Turns] 1 and 2 on restarts.”
Earnhardt felt that Johnson had the edge over everyone in Turn 3, which leads down the long frontstretch at Pocono and thus serves as the most critical of the turns at the “Tricky Triangle.”
“Jimmie beat us bad through Turn 3,” he said. “If he was stronger, that’s where I thought he was stronger than the field. We actually gained a little bit back through 1 and 2, but he was just flying through Turn 3 and down the front straightaway, and if you’re going to be good here, that’s where you’ve got to be good.”
Next up for Junior is Michigan International Speedway, where he won last June to snap a winless streak of 143 races.