Dale Jr: 'Nothing To Be Worried About'
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on January 28, 2014 | 7:36 P.M. EST
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he isn't worried about the proposed changes to NASCAR's Chase format. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a message to fans fretting the proposed changes to NASCAR’s Chase.
“It’s nothing to be worried about, nothing to be afraid of,’’ Earnhardt said Tuesday during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Tour.
NASCAR is set to announce changes to the Chase on Thursday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The Charlotte Observer recently reported that the Chase will expand from 12 to 16 teams, include eliminations and feature a winner-take-all championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway among four drivers.
Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson was asked if he felt such proposed changes were an attempt to keep him from winning.
“It’s crossed my mind,’’ he said with a wry smile. “I won’t lie.’’
Should these proposed changes be enacted, though, Johnson understands NASCAR’s thinking.
“At the end of the day, my focus is on what is best for our sport and we all know that change needs to happen,’’ he said. “I felt that there were changes in some areas, maybe procedural changes to the weekend that were going to be the first ideas that came along and we’re seeing that in qualifying.
“I was shocked to hear what was being proposed. If that’s the bullet that we need, then I’m for it. We need our grandstands full, we need our viewership numbers to be through the roof, we need our sponsors getting the best return on investments.’’
Jeff Gordon admits that the proposed change is “far from tradition for us, but at the same time, if it creates a lot more excitement and buzz internally with the competitors and the media and the fans, I’m all for it.’’
Earnhardt also expressed support for NASCAR changing the Chase. He admits it’s a much different reaction he had when NASCAR announced the Chase for the 2004 season.
“What the heck are we doing?’’ Earnhardt recalls his reaction to the advent of the Chase. “Why are we doing this? This doesn’t make any sense. But when you go through the process and you understand it, it makes sense and it didn’t bring the sport to its knees.’’
“This next change they’re talking about making is extreme, but I think all the things we’ve done ... all the things we’ve changed in the last five years have prepared me for that type of change. I feel pretty comfortable to go as far as (NASCAR Chairman) Brian (France) and ... those guys want to go. I feel confident in supporting them, whereas when we first made the change, I wasn’t that supportive and didn’t see why we needed to change anything. Now it seems like the timing is right. Just like the (No.) 3 coming back. It just seems like the timing is right.’’