Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Chase Contenders Hone Approach to Final Races

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Chase Contenders Hone Approach to Final Races

Article excerpt

For drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., patience is definitely a virtue at this point in the season.

Then again, there's a sense of urgency with the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship just two races away.

Only three drivers are assured of being in the 12-car playoff -- five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth -- but the outlook could be a lot clearer after today at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

While Earnhardt, ranked seventh in the points, is solidly positioned to maintain his spot in the playoff, he knows major problems at Atlanta and next weekend's race in Richmond could knock him out.

"We're just going to have to keep an eye on everybody around us," Earnhardt said. "I feel pretty good. I love Atlanta. I love Richmond. Those are good tracks for us. We have a chance to be successful, so I feel pretty confident."

Last season, the sport's most popular driver made the Chase but lost any hope of claiming his first series title when he sustained a concussion at Talladega, preventing him from racing the next two weeks.

Now, with another shot at going for a championship, Earnhardt, 38, knows he must balance his desire to win races against making sure he's still running at the end.

"I understand. I've been through the process before," he said. "You don't want to make knee-jerk reactions on the race track, do things that cause problems and wreck the car or anything like that. I've been in situations where I didn't realize the sacrifice I made until it was too late. Now, I understand it's about being more patient and allowing the race to happen."

No one is feeling the heat more than Brad Keselowski.

The defending Cup champion has yet to win this season and ranks 11th in the standings, making it possible he won't get a chance to defend his crown in the final 10 races of the season.

"Quite honestly, our backs are against the wall," Keselowski said. "But these are the times where great teams step up and make something happen, great drivers step up and make a play. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to prove what we're worth."

Johnson, who had an unprecedented run of titles from 2006-10, leads the standings and clinched his spot in the Chase three weeks ago. …

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