Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with five weeks to go before the Chase field is set.
But once the final 10 races begin, Earnhardt Jr. will fall out of the top spot unless he picks up at least two more wins. NASCAR gives Chase bonus points to drivers for each win, and Earnhardt Jr. still only has one victory compared to three for the leaders.
So in that sense, being the points leader means nothing for Earnhardt Jr. and his team. On the other hand, he's said several times how much it means to him to be running well enough to lead the points.
Earnhardt Jr. was asked Friday if it be worth trying to maintain the lead because of the momentum boost it would provide mentally?
Not so much, he said.
Earnhardt Jr. said his team was "really conservative" all year long to make sure it qualified for the Chase. Now that a playoff berth is all but certain, the team can gamble a lot more with strategy – like stretching its fuel mileage to try to win.
"You don't want to miss the Chase being foolish," he said. "We feel like we're in a good position to (gamble) and these last few races we can kind of throw it all out there.
"If we fall back in points because we made a few mistakes or made some gambles that didn't pay off, it's not a big deal. We know what kind of season we've had and we know we've got a lot to be proud of, and I know mentally we could go into the Chase pretty excited about our chances."
But the whole point of gambling, he quickly pointed out, would be to try to pick up some more wins before the Chase begins. And giving up on points racing for a good reason has "been a big load off my shoulders."
"We can just concentrate on the single event, and what's happening at that very moment – not really have to worry about anything too far out in the future," he said. "... We can forget about the Chase for the moment. Concentrate on being fast. Concentrate on what we are doing this weekend, next weekend. Really look at the particulars, and try to find more speed.
"... There is really no pressure. So that's a good thing. That's a good feeling."
Earnhardt Jr. said he knows his points lead could vanish if something goes wrong at the Glen this weekend – he could "walk out of here in fifth pretty easily" if there's a crash – but it still won't affect how he looks at the season overall.
"If anything, I think (losing the points lead) would make us hungrier and try to work harder knowing we haven't quite made the statement we want to make this year," he said. "We want to win the championship, we want to battle for the championship. On the way to getting that done, you want to win more races."