Despite having two wins under their belt this season and being locked in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 team haven't exactly set the woods on fire the past three races.
Since winning the rain-delayed race at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, Earnhardt has finished 21st at Kentucky, fifth at New Hampshire and 22nd in last weekend's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
After leading 96 of 161 laps at Daytona, Earnhardt paced the field for nary a lap over the next three races and endured a particularly miserable outing at Indy, where multiple issues on pit road and a late spin of his own making from contact with Kasey Kahne culminated in an all-around disappointing afternoon that was still weighing heavily on his mind Friday afternoon at Pocono Raceway.
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"We did have a frustrating race," NASCAR's most popular driver said inside the Pocono media center. "Anytime you don't realize your potential, you are going to be upset. If we should run in the top three and we run eighth, I'm not very happy about that. We had a pretty good car. I don't really know how good a car it was, but I think we were good enough to run in the top five. We had good speed all weekend and I think we should have qualified better. ...
"We had some issues on pit road that were out of our control. Those will get resolved. Nobody in the company wants to have that happen, and they will work on that really hard to fix any issues we have there."
The good news for the Hendrick Motorsports driver is that this weekend's race is at Pocono, a track where he swept last year's two Sprint Cup Series races and where he finished a respectable 11th in June. Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevy clocked in at 14th-quickest out of 43 cars in Friday's lone practice -- not terrible, but not good enough for the third-generation driver.
"Our car came off the trailer today with some issues," said Earnhardt, who later qualified 15th for Sunday's race. "We worked to try to figure that out. We were in race trim when we showed up. We worked on race trim for two or three runs and really struggled trying to get the car where it needs to be.
"We had been real competitive ever since they repaved this track. I don't think we've came here and not been quick. I was a little frustrated with this morning and how we showed up."
Although Earnhardt and teammate Jimmie Johnson are both locked in the Chase by virtue of their wins this season, while teammates Jeff Gordon and Kahne are in position to reach the Chase based on points, the Hendrick organization hasn't won a non-restrictor-plate race since Johnson went to Victory Lane at Dover on May 31.
Meanwhile, Joe Gibbs Racing has captured four of the past five races courtesy of Kyle Busch -- by far the hottest driver in the sport coming into Pocono.
Is Earnhardt concerned that Hendrick has lost a competitive edge to JGR with the start of the Chase just six races away? At Indy, Sprint Cup Series drivers debuted a new high-drag aero package that will also be used at Michigan International Speedway in two weekends.
"You don't fix issues on pit road overnight," said Earnhardt, reflecting on his problems at Indianapolis. "A lot of this stuff takes time and we don't learn about all these problems in Indy and have them tuned out for Pocono. This might be something that we have to focus on for a couple of weeks before we shore it up. I know that the company is aware of it and aims to fix it. That was kind of frustrating, but we did learn some things about that package that might help us at Michigan.
"We were so far back in track position (at Indy) that we were able to make some pretty crazy swings on the setup and do some wild stuff that we wouldn't have been able to do for fear of losing track position if we were running in the top 10. We found some things that helped us that might be able to help us at Michigan. We will see. It was a frustrating weekend."
Earnhardt said he is confident his team led by first-year crew chief Greg Ives is poised to rebound soon from its recent rough patch.
"Greg doesn't let that stuff really get to him," he said. "I don't expect that to be anything that lingers on. We all talk about it. We had a meeting Tuesday and this is something that we do often especially when there are concerns about our performance. We had a meeting Tuesday where everybody on the road crew, all the guys that are here today, are in that meeting together. We all lay everything on the table. Anybody got a problem, anybody see where we can do better, do different, and improve, so there is a lot of communication.
"We just didn't go home pissed off and then just show up to Pocono hoping everything was fine. We worked all week to make sure everybody was in the right frame of mind and were still on task. Even though that weekend at Indy didn't go like we wanted, we expect to come to Pocono and run really well."
VIDEO: Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks with FOX Sports about winning at Pocono last season