CONCORD, N.C. – The question posed to Dale Earnhardt Jr. this week was if the Chase for the Sprint Cup is fun or stressful.
“It is stressful, and it’s not enjoyable, but as a fan I would love the hell out of it,’’ he said. “I’d love to watch somebody else go through this (stuff) besides me. So I get it.
“I don’t think that they should get rid of the Chase or anything like that because I think as a fan, once I’m done driving, it’s going to be really fun to watch somebody else squirm through this process. But it’s pretty nail‑biting, man. It’s pretty tough.’’
Last year’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway featured a scrap between Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski. Kenseth put Keselowski in a headlock between haulers in the Sprint Cup garage after the race. Kenseth was upset with Keselowski for hitting his car on the cool-down lap.
“I think we just all got kind of carried away last year with the emotions,’’ said Earnhardt, who starts 12th today. “Not that it won’t get intense and emotional this year, but last year was just something else. You know, we’ll see how it goes. It might get pretty crazy. You just never know.’’
today’s race marks the first event in the second round. The 12-driver Chase field will be trimmed to eight drivers after the Talladega race in two weeks. Every Chase driver enters today’s race (on NBCSN) with the same amount of points.
Carl Edwards, who won the Coca-Cola 600 in May to earn a Chase spot, said he’s fine with this stressful format.
“For me, I guess throughout my career, I like it when you show up at the race track and you have to perform,’’ said Edwards, who starts eighth. “Sometimes before you get there thinking about it, that’s not very much fun, but once you actually get there, you strap in and it’s time to qualify or it’s time to race, that’s a really fun time.’’
The stress or fun that drivers and teams experience is just among the storylines for today’s race.
New role for “Six Time” – spoiler. Although Jimmie Johnson was eliminated from title contention last weekend at Dover, he could have a major impact on the Chase. He has seven wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway, including last year’s Coca-Cola 600. Any win by Johnson — or any other non-Chase driver — eliminates an opportunity for a Chase driver to automatically transfer to the third round. Also keep in mind that Johnson won at Kansas Speedway earlier this season and that’s next on the schedule.
Possible birthday present for Dale Earnhardt Jr.? He turns 41 today and this round looks to be his best. He finished third at Charlotte in May and at Kansas in May and won at Talladega in the spring. Those are the three tracks in this second round. Can he back up his Charlotte finish from earlier this year or score his first career Sprint Cup victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway?
Can Kevin Harvick do it again? He’s been dominant the past two weeks — leading more than 80 percent of the laps run at New Hampshire and Dover — but those weren’t 1.5-mile tracks. One of his three victories this season came on a 1.5-mile track this season (Las Vegas) and he finished runner-up at three such tracks (Atlanta, Texas, Kansas). Does his hot streak continue?
Line drawn. Charlotte Motor Speedway had lines painted on the track this week to note where the restart zone begins and ends. A number of drivers liked the idea. Some said it should be done for the remaining races this season. Today could show how helpful it is to NASCAR in determining if a driver jumps a restart.