Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Battle For NASCAR Chase Spot Will Come Down To Richmond

LONG POND, PA - AUGUST 05: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, readies for practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway on August 5, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. began nodding as soon as the question was asked.

Seeing as how tight the battle is for the top 10 in points, a reporter wondered, was Earnhardt Jr. preparing himself mentally for his Chase spot to be determined at Richmond?

The driver currently 10th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings shook his head affirmatively and said, "I'm fine with it."

Even with the spotlight firmly on Earnhardt Jr.? Though he's NASCAR's most popular driver, he doesn't always enjoy being the center of attention, though he deals with it gracefully. If Earnhardt Jr. is on the bubble at Richmond, the crush of media around him figures to be immense.

"I can handle it," he said. "I've got a great relationship with you guys, and I feel like we can all communicate. We've communicated well in the past, and I feel like I won't be bothered by any extra attention when it comes to that at Richmond.

"Whether we're on the outside looking in or whether we're in a tight position points-wise, I'll be able to handle my responsibilities to the media and do whatever I have to do and try to have a good attitude about it. I'll try to answer everybody's questions without being a smartass about it, and go out there and try to do a good job on the racetrack."

Earnhardt Jr. said he was confident the pressure and attention from the outside wouldn't seep into his psyche and affect his performance on the track.

If it did, he said, "I'd be pretty disappointed in myself."

At age 36 (he'll be 37 in October), Earnhardt Jr. is a seasoned veteran who has been in plenty of high-pressure media situations. Though he admits he wasn't always able to block out the distractions, he can now.

One reason? He's more confident than in the past.

"When you're not confident, everything you hear can work on you and you carry it into the car and it's in the back of your head, bugging you," he said. "But I've got confidence and I feel like we can do it. We're a good enough team to do it. That sort of helps me get in the car and go, ‘Alright. Time to block everything out, no matter what it is. The media, my mom's birthday, whatever it is.'"

For awhile, Earnhardt Jr. felt his lost confidence would come back all at once – like if he had a few good runs or won a race. But that's not how it works, he said.

"I thought one day I would just do something and – boom! – I would just have confidence," he said. "But you've got to work on it, you've got to believe in yourself. It just doesn't happen on its own."

With as much pressure on him than ever heading into the next five races, confidence is a weapon that has helped Earnhardt Jr. stay cool. He says he spends about "two seconds" being concerned about the point standings each week, because it doesn't do him any good.

"I'm aware (of the points), but I don't dwell on it, I don't let it bother me," he said. "I don't start counting, I don't get into it too seriously, because I just want to go focus on the next lap, wherever place that is."

This week, that place is Watkins Glen – one of the road course circuits he openly dislikes so much. But it's also an opportunity to prove to himself he can do it. That's why he plans to head to upstate New York with a positive attitude instead of feeling defeated before he arrives.

"Any time you go into a race weekend and you're not there confidence-wise, you set the tone for that weekend, and that's how your weekend is going to go," he said. "You have to remind yourself to stay positive and upbeat, even when the task looks impossible or too difficult."

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