Chasing The Chase

How has the Chase for the Championship changed things for drivers who are, six races away, on the outside looking in?

Not much in one sense, but a whole lot in another.

Take Dale Earnhardt Jr., for instance.

Midway through Sunday's Pennsylvania 500, Earnhardt was dog squeeze. Couldn't get out of his own way, much less anyone else's. After three straight top-10 finishes, it appeared that his chances for the Chase were worse than the morning line for Slippery Rock State-Southern Cal.

A spring change on pit road—followed by a 143-mile-per-hour blast to beat the pace car—made enough of a difference that Earnhardt got out of the car with a smile on his face.

"It was kind of a rough start today, but once we got the car figured out, it was pretty easy," he said. "A lot of things happened that nobody really knows about, but we got the car better at the end. We changed a spring, of all things, under a pit stop, and lost a lap. Never could make the laps back up. We got the car driving better, so we if we learned anything for Indy, which I think we did, maybe we can gain what we lost today. I don't like losing that much, but we've got enough races to get it done."

OK, he just finished 32nd at Pocono and looked pretty messed up doing it. That spring change—which is almost unheard of—was enough to maintain momentum? How exactly does that work?

"We'll get it back," he insisted. "We learned some stuff today. At the beginning of the weekend, we were really bad, and no matter what we did, we couldn't get the car running better. But there at the end, man, we were fast. We passed the second-place car, and then ran away from him. So if you paid real close attention to what happened today… well, I don't know if I can explain it…but we'll be OK. We got some stuff figured out today that really helped the car. I can't wait for Indy."

The situation for Junior is quite clear: from here on out, he's racing six other cars--Elliott Sadler, Dale Jarrett, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon. Sadler and Jarrett are currently in the Chase (ninth and 10th, respectively), McMurray, Edwards and Harvick are ahead of him and Gordon four points behind.

Junior hasn't had much luck at Indy, Michigan or California. He's bad-fast at Bristol and decent at Watkins Glen. In other words, he has to beat those six and hope that Jimmie Johnson continues to give points away like a sailor on shore leave to have any shot.

So how does he look at it?

"Plenty of time," he said. "We just got to win more, maybe run in the top-five a couple times. We'll be right there."

Whatever it was they found with that shock change, let's hope it works. This I have to see.

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