Stress to the third power

DOVER, DE - SEPTEMBER 27: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

DOVER, DE – SEPTEMBER 27: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

DOVER, Del.— With three races in each elimination segment of the Chase, the stress level of the 10-race playoff has been ratcheted up exponentially. Just ask Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“This has been really intense,” Earnhardt agreed. “We’re not used to racing for our season in little chunks—two- and three- and one-race spans like we’re going to do in this Chase. The Chase itself as a 10-race schedule was a wild idea when it first came out. This definitely makes things really intense.

“You feel it all week long. It’s unescapable as far as trying to get it off your mind or trying to take a break from it. You can’t help but feel these nerves of having to deliver on every lap in practice, every qualifying lap—everything matters to the 10th degree when compared to the format we had last year.”

According to Earnhardt, the difference is almost palpable.

“The races feel wilder, more intense,” he said. “I think the drivers themselves drive with a much greater sense of urgency, and everybody is just really super on edge. That’s what I sense anyways.

“I think that will continue for whoever stays alive (after each elimination round) and probably get worse. We’re all going to be drinking the Mylanta before it’s over with. If we don’t all have holes in our guts by the end of this thing, I’ll be surprised.”

SHORT STROKES

Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke his steering wheel during Saturday morning’s first practice session, requiring a replacement for Happy Hour.

Was the broken wheel a case of Earnhardt not knowing his own strength? “I been in the gym too much, I know,” Earnhardt posted on his Twitter account between sessions…

AJ Allmendinger may have qualified a disappointing 28th, but in Saturday’s morning practice session, the 10th-place Chase driver was second only to eighth-place Matt Kenseth on the speed chart, perhaps auguring favorably for Allmendinger’s chances to avoid elimination. Kenseth paced the session at 155.649 mph, followed by Allmendinger at 154.805 mph…

Coors Light Pole winner Kevin Harvick was fastest in Happy Hour at 157.089 mph, further affirming that the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet will be a contender for the win on Sunday and, in all probability, for the Sprint Cup Series championship in November.

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