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Dale Earnhardt Jr. not worried about shifting at Pocono, focused on winning

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton's 400 - Practice

LONG POND, PA - JULY 29: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 29, 2017 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

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LONG POND, Pa. — So far so good for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his engine.

Last month, Earnhardt blew an engine in practice when he missed a shift and then did the same thing in the race.

Earnhardt had no issues in Saturday’s two Cup practices. He can’t afford such mistakes with six races left until the playoffs. Earnhardt needs to win to have a chance to race for the title in his final Cup season.

He blew his engine in both instances in June when he went to shift from third to fourth gear but put the shifter in second gear.

“We made some changes to the mechanics of our transmission that are unique for me and nothing that we did across the board for all the teammates,’’ Earnhardt said Saturday at Pocono Raceway. “So I did a couple of things with my transmission to help me stay in that outside gate, that third and fourth gear. We just stiffened the spring.

“We made it very hard to go into second (from third gear). So I should just be able to go from (third to fourth). Probably something should have done a long time ago just for some extra assurance.

“I’ve made that mistake before, getting in the wrong gear at a lot of tracks, road courses in particular. But we got through Sonoma shifting and all the things we do at Sonoma without any problems, (and it) gave me the confidence that maybe it was just something unique to the pattern or what we were doing that particular weekend, gave me confidence coming back and some of the changes we made to our transmission gave me a lot of confidence. Should be no problem going forward.’’

With that out of the way, the focus becomes winning, something Earnhardt hasn’t done since Nov. 2015 at Phoenix. He was 17th in the final practice session and ranked 21st in the opening session.

Asked what tracks he felt were his best chance to win before the playoffs began, Earnhardt said:

“Michigan is a good track for us,’’ he said. “Bristol, I can probably win there.

“Darlington, man we come close that’s like a win. That place is tough but you never know. We’ll just have to keep showing up and see what happens. You got to keep trying.’’

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