Earnhardt: Locking into Chase field early would help

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, talks with crew chief Steve Letarte and Chad Knaus during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 4, 2012 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images for NASCAR)

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Nine races into the season may be too early to focus on the points standings, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. already is looking ahead to the end of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ 26-race regular season.

Currently second in the standings, four points behind leader Greg Biffle, Earnhardt would like nothing better than to secure his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup before the 26th race Sept. 8 at Richmond.

“I’m just trying to put together good races, one after the other,” Earnhardt said Saturday morning at Talladega Superspeedway. “Complete races, finish every lap, finish as good as the car can, steal a couple of spots here and there when we can — like we did last weekend (at Richmond) — and just total points and keep putting points on the board.

“The best scenario for us would be to be able to go into the last few races before the Chase already locked in, so we can try to do some things that we typically wouldn’t do and take some chances that we typically wouldn’t take on the racecar itself and learn and understand some new things about the car that we can’t really try yet, for fear of having a failure or a bad run with it.”

Though Earnhardt has won five times at Talladega, he doesn’t feel that breaking his 138-race drought in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 will constitute definitive proof he’s back to top form — at least in the eyes of his fans and his critics.

“I (can) guess what the critics’ opinion would be, should we win here and break the streak,” Earnhardt said. ” ‘Obviously, it’s a plate track, and go win somewhere and prove to us really that you’ve got it all turned around.’

“I don’t know — but that kind of is in the back of your mind a little bit.”


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