AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. has no issues with NASCAR’s championship format, even as he heads to Talladega Superspeedway on the brink of elimination.
A broken shifter at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday night dropped Earnhardt to last in the 12-driver field, and he’ll need a victory at Talladega to advance to the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
He called NASCAR’s new elimination format “dramatic” and said Tuesday during a test session at Phoenix International Raceway the system has “served us well.”
Earnhardt, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski are all in danger of being eliminated from the Chase on Sunday. The three are ranked in the bottom of the standings, and NASCAR now cuts four from the field after every third race.
Earnhardt, Johnson and Keselowski combined to win 10 of the 26 regular-season races.
Earnhardt, who has three victories this season, is realistic about his chances. He fell into this hole when he had a tire problem while leading two weeks ago at Kansas, and then the mechanical failure at Charlotte made his situation even worse.
“The facts are the facts,” he said. “We are going to Talladega to try to win. We’ll see what happens from there. We’ve had two pretty bad races, and we still have a chance to win it. We appreciate that.”
The new format has been credited by the drivers for raising the stakes in the Chase. A win in any round automatically advances a driver, and four drivers will go to the season finale eligible to win the championship. The highest finisher at Homestead-Miami Speedway will claim the Cup.
While a driver can save his season with a victory, one bad segment in the Chase can ruin the year.
“No one is safe,” said Jeff Gordon, teammates with Earnhardt and Johnson. “Once that race is over, we are going to have a lot to talk about and some surprises that we couldn’t have anticipated when the Chase began.”
Heading into the playoffs, it looked as if it might be a showdown between Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports for the title. Now Joey Logano might be Penske’s only representative in the third round, while Gordon and Kasey Kahne are currently poised to represent Hendrick, which had four cars in the Chase.
There’s simply no room for error, Clint Bowyer said.
“One slip up and Dale Junior, he had a flat tire, and he’s out of the playoffs,” Bowyer said.
Regardless of what happens, Earnhardt believes the system has created intense competition that will be must-watch racing, even if he’s eliminated.
“I think everyone who is a NASCAR fan will be watching that Homestead race just to see how this turns out,” Earnhardt said. “I think my fans enjoy racing and will continue to watch. I don’t we think drive the ratings that way.”
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