Dale Earnhardt Jr. At The Brickyard 400: NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Staying Cool Under Points Pressure

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. rolled into Michigan International Speedway six weeks ago, he was third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings and only seven points away from taking over the lead.

Earnhardt Jr., his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team and Junior Nation were all feeling positive and enjoying what had been the most consistent season of Earnhardt Jr.'s career to that point.

Then came a string of bad luck, bad decisions and bad finishes that have dropped Earnhardt Jr. to the brink of losing a spot in the Chase.

Heading into Sunday's Brickyard 400, Earnhardt Jr. is ninth in the standings, 75 points behind leader Carl Edwards. Instead of being only seven points from the Chase lead, NASCAR's most popular driver is now only seven points inside the Chase.

So is it panic time yet? Hardly, Earnhardt Jr. said.

"I don't really get urgent," he said. "When things aren't going good and time is running out, (then) time is running out. I'm a realist about it. I know we've got seven races to make something happen, and we're going to try to do that.

"If you get urgent and you get panicky, man, that's when you make mistakes."

Earnhardt Jr. fans can look at history, though, and feel somewhat positive. In 2006, Earnhardt Jr. arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after a string of five bad finishes and was 11th in the point standings.

He then finished sixth in that season's Brickyard 400, which sparked a turnaround and eventually led to his team making the Chase.

Now, after a similar string of five straight finishes of 15th or worse, Earnhardt Jr. knows there's plenty of time to get his momentum back on track.

"I know we're a good team and I know we were doing pretty well earlier in the season," he said.

Does he still feel confident about making the Chase?

"Yeah," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm in position to make it right now, so sure. That's a question you might ask someone if they're 18th. I'm (ninth)."

Earnhardt Jr. pointed to the new NASCAR points system as a reason that his sub-par finishes have led to a drop in the standings.

"I knew the points system was going to be kind of weird this year, and when you don't finish good, it's big with this new system," he said. "... It's just crazy how this new system can make gaps in just a week or two between people. Where in the old system, the pace between guys kind of coming and going in the points system was a lot slower.

"Now it's chunks of points. You can be out one week, then you can be way up in there two weeks later."

He shrugged.

"What are you going to do, you know?" he said. "I'm not going to make myself miserable worrying about it. I'm just going to try to put the hammer down when I get in the car today and see what happens."

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