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Saturday Pocono Notebook

Earnhardt looks to Pocono and Michigan as best winning chances

LONG POND, Pa. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. has six more shots to qualify for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

And given his current 22nd position in the standings in what will be his last season of full-time racing, his only realistic path to the postseason involves winning one of the next six races.

Based on his own history, Earnhardt feels Sunday's Overton's 400 at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN), and the race at Michigan in two weeks hence, offer him the best chance of reaching Victory Lane. But he still feels it's imperative to take a winning attitude to the other four tracks - Watkins Glen, Bristol, Darlington and Richmond.

"I think here and Michigan are tracks that I obviously have got some wins, recent wins at, so there is going to be some more expectations going into those or more confidence going into those," Earnhardt said on Saturday at Pocono. "I hate to say that because we've got to go in there and even, like I said on social media the other day, we've got to go into Watkins Glen like we can win.

"We've got to go in there with that attitude, if we want to win. If that opportunity falls in our lap, you have to have your head on straight. We will go to all these tracks with a great, positive attitude and see how it works out for us, but here and Michigan are probably the ones at the top of the list."

Should Earnhardt fail to make the playoff, he would still crave a victory in the final 10 races. He pointed to his 2014 victory Martinsville, after he had been eliminated from the playoff, as one of the most significant of his career.

"Everybody was down and bummed out," Earnhardt recalled. "We thought we had a great season. We were in the top three in points all year, and we just got bumped out. We had a couple of bad races. And we went to Martinsville and won, which for me is definitely in my top five as far as wins that I personally appreciate. And we celebrated and it was the greatest. You'd have never known that we were disappointed about anything. And all that disappointment and upset feeling was gone...

"If we can win any race before the end of the season, just to go back to Victory Lane and know that feeling one more time before it's over with, that would be awesome."

ADDITION OF BLANEY WILL ADD DEPTH AT TEAM PENSKE

In a heavy news week for Team Penske, 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski inked a long-term contract extension, and the organization announced the addition of a third Cup team with driver Ryan Blaney for 2018.

Given the current embargo against discretionary testing in NASCAR's top-three divisions, Keselowski believes the addition of Blaney's No. 12 Ford will be a positive.

"Hopefully, it means more depth," Keselowski said on Saturday. "More ability to extend resources engineering where you can make the car faster. The biggest battle that we have right now in motorsports is aerodynamics. The teams keep pushing aerodynamics further and further to improve that. It's just really the time and energy that you can spend on it.

"The more people you have, the more revenue you have, the more that you can work in those areas with engineering tools or experiments to get better. There's a lot of hope with respect to that. It's not just aerodynamics. It also carries over to the engine side with Roush Yates Engines and a number of other categories of depth, whether it be pit crews or shop mechanics, fabricators and beyond.

"Assuming that it's pulled off and executed in the right way at those levels it should be a gain for everybody at Team Penske."

TRUEX RUES LOSING TIRE CHANGERS TO SUSPENSION

The ramifications of Martin Truex Jr.'s collision with Kyle Busch as the two drivers battled for the lead last Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, produced ramifications that extended well beyond the race.

After the wreck, which Truex triggered when his No. 78 Toyota got loose beneath Busch's no. 18 Camry, Truex's tire changers Chris Taylor (front) and Lee Cunningham (rear) were involved in a heated confrontation with Busch's crew chief, Adam Stevens, who strode into the No. 78 pit area after receiving taunts from the rival crewmen.

Just one problem. The No. 78 crew is actually assembled by Joe Gibbs Racing (Busch's team) and is outsourced to Furniture Row Racing (Truex's team) as part of the alliance between the two Toyota organizations.

Team owner Joe Gibbs opted to suspend the two tires changers for three races each because they had initiated the controversy. The complication is that Truex is competing against Busch for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, and the suspensions could have a profound effect, Truex believes.

"It's a tough situation for us to be in - there's no doubt about that," Truex told reporters after a FanFest appearance at Pocono Raceway on Friday night. "I'm obviously not happy about how it all went down. I'm disappointed that I made a mistake, and it got us kind of in this position. I guess it is what it is, and we'll deal with it the best we can, and we'll go forward."

Making the suspensions all the more costly is the excellence of his crew.

"It's a big impact when they're two of the best out there," Truex said. "Our pit crew has been amazing this year, putting us in position to win multiple races, not making mistakes - they've got everything. Those two guys are unbelievable, what they do. We're obviously at a disadvantage without them."

Truex hopes, however, that the altercation won't have a negative effect on the strong working relationship between the two organizations.

"I hope not," Truex said. "I don't think so. Again, it's unfortunate that the mistake I made on the race track caused all this stuff to blow up. I'm proud of our pit crew guys and what they've done this year and what they continue to do for us. And like I said, we'll just get through the next couple weeks as best we can."

--- NASCAR Wire Service ---