In typical fashion, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was one cool customer when discussing the pressure as he heads into the race that determines the 2006 championship class. After missing the Chase last year, Earnhardt's attitude has taken a bit of a turn. He...
In typical fashion, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was one cool customer when discussing the pressure as he heads into the race that determines the 2006 championship class. After missing the Chase last year, Earnhardt's attitude has taken a bit of a turn. He appears less flummoxed by an occasional misstep by his team and more grateful that his late father's company Dale Earnhardt Incorporated has managed to turn their program around.
"Well we've peaked pretty good right now," commented Earnhardt. "I mean we've been running second and third and sixth the last couple of weeks. So, that has been good for us. That is pretty much as good as our performance has been ever before. You know, hopefully we can maintain that through the Chase. Hopefully, we can get through this weekend without any misfortune and be in the Chase and keep it up. It's really a good thing right now and a lot of fun."
Last season was a much more tumultuous year for the No. 8 Chevrolet team. Despite a win and 13 top-10 finishes, the team struggled under various crew chief and personnel changes and Earnhardt appeared to be continually miffed with the ongoing dramas within the team. After missing the Chase, a certain sparkle went out of his baby-blues and that certainly has reappeared with just a day left to settle the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
While his spot is not a lock, something disastrous would have to happen at RIR Saturday night for Earnhardt to lose his spot. He is sixth in standings, 11th placed Kasey Kahne trails him by 78 points. Either way, Earnhardt and Team 8 don't have a heavy handed strategy. Right now, they are riding on pure momentum.
"I thought about it for about five minutes after California and that was the last time I thought about it," said Earnhardt of all the possible mathematical outcomes and lines of attack. "It is what it is, you go out there and do what you have to do and you can only control certain parts of what's going on out there and the rest is up to fate. So, hopefully, you just have a little bit of luck on your side."
Earnhardt's brief hiatus from the limelight the last ten races of 2005 gave him a bit of perspective and he is enjoying being back in newsprint and in contention for what would be his first series championship.
"It's exciting as a driver to be a part of it," said Earnhardt of the Chase. "I know that sounds cliché but for me I think it's really exciting to be a part of it. I am glad the Chase is, what it is. I don't want to be on the outside looking in too often but to be in the battle for the tenth spot there at the end has been really exciting. It has been a lot of fun for me and I really enjoy that type of thing happening in my life. So, instead of pressure its fun. It is fun sort of being in the mix and being part of the headline.
"I didn't learn nothing from not being in the Chase last year. If you keep your head on straight and you are with a good team you will make the Chase. A good team is where you have talented driver that has a good level head will make it comfortably. If you look at everyone who is struggling to make the Chase right now, myself included they have all had problems and mistakes they have made. But I think it is not as difficult to make the Chase as it is made out to be."
With Earnhardt's record at Richmond he should sleep pretty well tonight. He won this race in the spring and in 14 career starts he was earned three wins and nine top-10's.