Dale Earnhardt Jr. has enjoyed not having to worry about making the Chase or his points position since he won the Daytona 500 last month.
He’d hate to have to do it again, but that could happen if the number of winners keeps piling up.
“If we have a new winner every week, if we get into Week 13 and 14 and we have got 12 winners at that particular point with 10 races left in the regular season, guys are going to get a little more protective of their position in points,” he said. “I hope that we don’t really get to that situation.”
He said the Daytona victory lifted the burden of worrying about points.
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“Being able to just race one weekend after the next and not worry about anything else was great,” he said. “Having to fall back into that mode of concentrating on your points position, your track position, maximizing every race to get the most points — that is a bit of a burden, one we always dealt with year after year, and this year it seemed to go away.”
Every race winner in the top 30 in points and the regular-season points champ, if he is winless, makes the Chase unless there are 16 or more winners. In that case, the best points decide the finalists.
The first five races have produced a different winner — Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.
Matt Kenseth’s sudden success at Martinsville when he switched to Joe Gibbs Racing was a wake-up call for Roush Fenway, in whose equipment he always struggled at the short track.
“At first, it was a little embarrassing for our whole company,” Roush Fenway driver Carl Edwards said. “It’s like, ‘Man, we need to do a better job. All of us do.’ But it was the best thing that could happen for us because it reminds us that we can do it.”
Edwards said sometimes, drivers just believe they’re not good at a certain track.
“I can’t speak for Matt, but just listening to him talk, I don’t think he thought he was very good at Martinsville, and that’s how I felt for a long time,” Edwards said. “But seeing him do that made me realize that maybe I am able to do it.”
Trusting care center
Denny Hamlin hopes drivers don’t think twice about going to the infield care center if they are not feeling well before a race, even at the risk of learning they won’t be allowed to race.
Hamlin reported to the care center before last week’s race with eye irritation and wound up being declared unfit to race because he failed a vision exam.
At a hospital, a piece of metal was removed from his eye.
“I hope this doesn’t keep drivers from going to the infield care center and making sure they’re 100 percent before any event,” he said. “Drivers are going to drive through being sick and things like that; you can do that. You can’t mess with your vision. That’s all we’ve got. That’s what we have to go off of when we’re driving these cars.
“Hopefully the drivers will trust in the process that is out there for them.”