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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has mixed feelings about Pocono runner-up finish

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta "We Paint Winners" 400

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 06: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Axalta Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 6, 2016 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. left Pocono Raceway on Monday with a love-hate finish.

Earnhardt hated to finish second to race winner Kurt Busch in Monday’s race, not to mention also losing what may have been the best chance he had to reach victory lane this season.

“I could have been a little more aggressively doing some things differently,” Earnhardt said. “But we ended up getting tight and not really having anything anyways right at the end of the race, and (Busch) saved enough (fuel).”

But at the same time,Earnhardt loved his second-place finish - his best finish since placing second six races ago at Bristol.

Since that Bristol race, he’s struggled with five consecutive finishes outside of the top 10: 13th (Richmond), 40th (Talladega), 15th (Kansas), 32nd (Dover) and 14th (Charlotte).

Yeah, (finishing second) certainly feels better than finishing 15th,” Earnhardt said. “When you get just a little bit behind in this series, holy moly, it takes so much work to just regain what you lost, not really even to have an advantage, just to get back to where you were. A tenth out on that racetrack is impossible to find.

“It’s a good step in the right direction. I felt like we could come in here and run good, and I think we learned a lot that we can understand how to get better for the next race here. I’m looking forward to Michigan, and obviously it’s going to be a different package, but I think we’ll run good on that track, too, and anticipate having a good run at Kentucky.”

Earnhardt is relieved that his slump could be over. He also has high hopes he can capture that elusive first win of the season, which would all but guarantee him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“We certainly finished better than we should have,” Earnhardt said. “Our car wasn’t quite a second-place car. We started off really tight and really slow, probably about a 15th-place car. Greg (Ives, crew chief) and the guys made a lot of changes and made the car better.”

Earnhardt criticized NASCAR for the minimal amount of practice at Pocono this weekend. While much of the reason was weather-related – including the postponement of Sunday’s race to Monday – Earnhardt suggested NASCAR should reevaluate its practice policies for Sprint Cup teams.

“We just didn’t get any practice,” he said. “The drivers have been asking NASCAR to take away the morning practice and add a little bit to the second one to make that Saturday practice an hour and a half, and we didn’t -- it was just an hour.

“It takes you a minute to run around this track. You can’t get but 13 damned laps in practice. I don’t know how you’re supposed to figure out what your cars are doing. So we came into this race with no idea.

“We made a lot of changes last night. We basically put in an old setup that worked in the past, and it started off missing the mark pretty bad, but we worked on it and got it better, and we’ll take the points. We’ve had a rough month, so this is a decent finish for us.”

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