Junior Faces Long Odds

RICHMOND, Va. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't kidding himself. He knows all too well his chances for making the 12-driver field for The Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup are pretty remote.

Still, Earnhardt Jr. plans to do his job Saturday night in the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway, and that's to lead the most laps and put the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet in Victory Lane.

If he does that, then Kevin Harvick would have to finish 34th or worse for Earnhardt Jr. to make the Chase.

With Harvick's record at Richmond, that scenario is not very likely.

"All of those guys ahead of us, they've just had better years overall," said Earnhardt Jr., who sits 13th in the NEXTEL Cup Series standings, 128 points behind 12th-place Harvick. "There is no real excuse. We had some failures and whatnot, but you can't really lean on those as excuses because you are in control of those types of things, too.

"I've dealt with a lot harder and more difficult situations, but, we're pretty much beaten. We've been outraced. We will just have to try from here and go forward. The best thing we can do is to make something positive out of this race."

Earnhardt Jr. qualified 21st Friday. Harvick qualified 13th.

It will be the second time in the last three years Earnhardt Jr. will miss The Chase. He participated in The Chase in 2004, missed it in 2005 and made it again in 2006.

Should a miracle not happen, he won't have a chance to win a title at Dale Earnhardt Inc., the company his father founded. Earnhardt Jr. is moving on to Hendrick Motorsports next season. Earlier this week, it was announced that his crew chief and cousin, Tony Eury Jr., would follow him to Hendrick for 2008.

"It's unfortunate because I really feel like we should have made it," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I really feel like we shoulda. I didn't think it would even be close. I am really disappointed that we weren't able to realize our potential."

Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Harvick are the only four drivers currently in the top 12 in the NEXTEL Cup Series standings who have not clinched a spot in The Chase. Bowyer and Truex Jr. have only to start the Chevy Rock & Roll 400. Harvick needs only to finish 33rd or better to get in, while Busch needs only to finish 36th or better to make it, should Earnhardt Jr. win the race and lead the most laps.

Jimmie Johnson will start tonight's race from the pole in a quest to add 10 points to the 50 bonus points he's already accumulated prior to The Chase for his five victories this season. Johnson is also looking for his second straight victory after winning at California Speedway last weekend.

His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, qualified second Friday and is the only driver who can tie Johnson for the No. 1 seed in The Chase with a victory Saturday night. Gordon has four victories, but hasn't won a race since Pocono in June.

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