Earnhardt Jr. hits stride just in time

WHAT’S UP?

Right now, Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Hendrick Motorsports driver picked up the pace this weekend at Pocono Raceway, finishing third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race. That’s good news for NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver as he moved up two spots to fourth in the standings.

WHY IT MATTERS

If you’ve been fervently hoping for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to reach his potential, this is good news for you as well. If you’ve hungered to see him hoist a Sprint Cup trophy – for winning a race or the title – it’s even better. Why? Because momentum is king in NASCAR, and Junior now has it.

He’s tied with Jimmie Johnson for the most top-10 finishes this season, with nine, and just turned in a top-five run at a tough track – a mere week before returning to the site of his last win.

Is the Pocono run, combined with his success this season, a sign that Junior could once more be the victor at Pocono? You bet.

WHAT HE SAID

Earnhardt Jr. found reason for optimism in his Pocono run.

“Hopefully going to Michigan we’ve got a good package," he said. "When we get there, we’ll see. But so far it’s been real similar to last year. We were strong here last year.”

And while some might think there is animosity with teammate – and Pocono winner – Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. said the success of one helps them all.

“I get to lean on them and I get to know exactly what’s happening under the hood,” he said. “I can learn and use that to my advantage. When it’s good for Jimmie, it’s equally as good for us in an indirect way and hopefully, we can see what they did and come back to Pocono and try to improve on what we did today.”

NUMBERS GAME

4: Top fives earned by Earnhardt Jr. in 14 Cup races this season. Also the spot where he is in the standings.

9: Top 10s for Earnhardt Jr. this year

$2.7 million: Winnings for Earnhardt Jr. in 2013.