Auto Racing / Sports

For Earnhardt, new start pays off

LONG POND, Pa. -- Was the pairing of driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. with crew chief Steve Letarte the "last straw" for Earnhardt at Hendrick Motorsports?

Comments made this week by the sport's most popular driver certainly make it seem that way.

During a break during testing in the past week at New Hampshire International Speedway, Earnhardt raised the issue during a discussion of how Letarte has influenced his career as a driver.

There is no secret Earnhardt struggled in his first few seasons at HMS with crew chiefs Tony Eury Jr. and then Lance McGrew before pairing with Letarte at the start of the 2011 season.

"We both kind of needed each other in that moment. Steve was coming off kind of frustrating seasons with Jeff (Gordon) and both of them kind of needed a new start, so me and Steve both definitely maybe deserve each other," Earnhardt said.

"I'm glad it's worked out the way it has and I knew that when we got together that it was kind of my last straw. We'd been through so much, so I needed to get something going and fast."

Earnhardt has won two races with Letarte, including this season's Daytona 500.

HAMLIN STARTS POLE SUNDAY: Denny Hamlin is no stranger to Victory Lane at Pocono and got a head start to returning there by winning the pole for Sunday's Pocono 400.

Hamlin was 12th fastest in Round 1, sixth fastest in Round 2 and captured the pole with a track record lap at 181.415 mph in Round 3.

Hamlin has won four times at Pocono, including a sweep of both races in his rookie season. The pole is his second of the season and 19th of his career.

"We just kept making the car faster every session, and that was key," Hamlin said. "This track is so different since the re-pave, you could almost rename the race track."

Kurt Busch qualified second, Brad Keselowski third, Kevin Harvick fourth and Jeff Gordon fifth. Series points leader Matt Kenseth will line up 26th.

MOFFITT TO COMPETE AT MICHIGAN: Brett Moffitt will drive Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 66 Toyota in the Cup series race June 15 at Michigan, which will be his second career series start.

Moffitt, a 21-year-old Iowa native, made his Cup debut in Dover last week, starting 18th and finishing 22nd in his series debut.

Jeff Burton, who was originally slated to run the Michigan race in the No. 66, will now enter the July 13 race at New Hampshire.

BUSCH DOCUMENTARY SCHEDULED: NBC will present "Kurt Busch: 36," an all-access documentary into the preparation, competition and logistics surrounding Busch's attempt at completing the Indianapolis 500-Coca-Cola 600 double, at 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

The 30-minute special will feature in-depth interviews, on-track footage and team communications. A 60-minute director's cut of "Kurt Busch: 36" will air at 11:30 p.m. Monday on NBC Sports Network.

MODIFIEDS GET ALL-STAR RACE: New Hampshire will host the inaugural Modified All-Star Shootout on July 11 during its first Cup series race weekend of the season.

The 40-lap shootout with $28,000 on the line will feature current and past champions from NASCAR's modified tours.

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