About five minutes into his media availability on Friday at Richmond International Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. momentarily stopped himself to clarify how he felt about his Chase hopes.
NASCAR's most popular driver holds a 25-point lead over 11th-place Brad Keselowski – and basically needs to stay within 24 positions of Keselowski to make the Sprint Cup Series playoff (give or take a couple, depending on whether either driver leads a lap).
But as reporters peppered Earnhardt Jr. with questions about whether he'll make the Chase, he briefly stopped the proceedings.
"I mean, I'm not really that worried about it, to be honest with you all," he said. "I feel like we're a good enough team to get in it, and I've felt like that all year long. I feel like we will get the job done."
Earnhardt Jr. said it would be "disappointing" to miss the Chase, but it was obvious he hadn't given that possibility much consideration. He believes he'll get in with few problems.
"I don't want to put too much thought into the whole process," he said. "Just kind of go in there and let it flow."
Though Earnhardt Jr. has won at Richmond, it's been awhile since he's done so. Partly because of that, he won't be worried about where Keselowski is running on Saturday night, but rather focused on how his own No. 88 car is doing.
"You go into the race and you know what you gotta do, and you just try to do it," he said. "Whatever happens is going to happen, and that's what you're going to have to live with at the end of the night."
If he finds himself running near an untrustworthy driver – or a "one-bar," as spotter T.J. Majors calls them – Earnhardt Jr. said he still won't race any differently than in any other event.
"We'll just race like we've raced 'em all," he said. "I think if you get too cautious, you can put yourself in a lot of situations that aren't good. I think you've got to race naturally. I feel like I do a good job of not getting into a lot of trouble and not getting me in situations that get me in the fence or get spun out ... So I'll just race naturally, like I've always done."
Earnhardt Jr. was subdued and quiet on Friday, especially when talking about how he'd fare if he made the Chase. His team hasn't run as well in the summer as it did in the spring, and the driver speculated it may have gotten conservative in an effort to not lose any more points.
But he doesn't exactly feel like a championship favorite heading into the final 10 races, and that bothers him.
"My main concern is us being more competitive as a team, and it's real frustrating to make the Chase and then not be as competitive as you want to be during those races," he said. "... That's really where my concern and worry is, and what my mind is on. Just trying to be a better race team, man. If we're going to be in the Chase, you want to put up a better account for yourself."
But first, of course, he has to make it.