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Earnhardt Jr. seeking a season-sweep at Pocono

Long Pond, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Upon his arrival to Pocono Raceway on Friday morning for this weekend's Sprint Cup Series race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted, "Landed in Pocono. Lookin for a broom."

Earnhardt, who has been voted as NASCAR's most popular driver for the past 11 years, is hoping for a season-sweep at Pocono. If Earnhardt takes the checkered flag for Sunday's 400-mile race, he would become the seventh different driver to win both Sprint Cup races here in the same season. Bobby Allison (1982), Bill Elliott (1985), Tim Richmond (1986), Bobby Labonte (1999), Jimmie Johnson (2004) and Denny Hamlin (2006) have accomplished that feat at this 2.5-mile triangular-shaped racetrack.

When the series most recently competed at Pocono in June, Earnhardt passed Brad Keselowski for the lead with five laps remaining and then held off Keselowski at the finish for the victory. It was the first time he had won here in 29 starts.

"We had a really competitive car but not the best car," Earnhardt said of his win at Pocono two months ago. "The best car doesn't always win, but it certainly helps to be the fastest guy out there. You can definitely have a different strategy.

"What we want to do is find a little bit more speed than we had here last time. We want to try to get a little bit better in practice, so we have more confidence."

Talladega Superspeedway is the only track where Earnhardt has won both races in the same season, doing so in 2002.

Earlier this week, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Greg Ives will serve as crew chief for Earnhardt's No. 88 team for the 2015 season. Steve Letarte has been Earnhardt's crew chief since 2011, but Letarte is leaving the team at the end of the year and joining NBC Sports for its coverage of NASCAR next season.

Ives is now the crew chief for Chase Elliott's No. 9 Nationwide Series team at JR Motorsports, which is co-owned by Earnhardt, his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, and Rick Hendrick. Elliott, a rookie in Nationwide this season, is the current points leader and winner of three races. Prior to his stint at JRM, Ives served as a mechanic and engineer with Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 team at Hendrick.

Earnhardt has been in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship each year since he was paired with Letarte. The two kicked off the 2014 season by winning the Feb. 23 Daytona 500.

"Every race gets a little bit harder knowing this is Steve's last year," Earnhardt said. "I know winding down into the Chase is going to be pretty emotional for both of us. But the one thing that I was probably most relieved about was to be able to make a decision [on a crew chief for next year] and get it done.

"I didn't want to be in the middle of choosing that guy. I just wanted to sit back and watch Steve [Letarte] and Chad [Knaus, crew chief for Johnson's team] to really make that decision. Those guys know the company so well and know the position so well. I trust them to make the better decision that I could have made."

Earnhardt is presently second in the point standings. He trails leader and Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon by 24 points. Earnhardt is one of six drivers who has clinched a spot in this year's 16-member Chase field. Gordon, Johnson, Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano are the others. There six races to go before the playoffs begin Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway.

This year, Earnhardt is on pace to post a career-best average finish in Sprint Cup. He's currently averaging a finish of 10.2. His season-long best is 10.9 in 2012. Earnhardt has finished in the top-10 in seven of the last eight races.

"Once we started competing better and better, the confidence started building," he said. "I think the confidence has been there for some time now, maybe a year or two. We're just now starting to realize our full potential."

A driver from Hendrick has won the past four races at Pocono: Gordon (August 2012), Johnson (June 2013), Kasey Kahne (August 2013) and Earnhardt (June 2014). Kahne has not been to victory lane in Sprint Cup since one year ago here.

Forty-three drivers are on the entry list for the GoBowling.com 400.

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Aug. 3. Race: GoBowling.com 400. Site: Pocono Raceway. Track: 2.5-mile triangle-shaped track. Start time: 1 p.m. ET. Laps: 160. Miles: 400. 2013 Winner: Kasey Kahne. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.

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