Chase pressure mounting for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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A crash and a flat tire in the last two races have knocked Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the clutches of the ongoing battle among multiple drivers to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

With Earnhardt still winless in 2013 and only 20 points ahead of 11th-place Wild Card holder Kasey Kahne (two wins), his grip on a post-season berth is loosening at the worst possible time.

Before he suffered his tire failure at Michigan – which relegated him to a 36th-place finish – Earnhardt had expressed confidence that he and his team would be where they needed to be when the regular season ended.

But with three races remaining before the Chase, it appears that NASCAR’s most popular driver is getting at least a little troubled about the matter.

“You definitely don’t like to be in this situation,” Earnhardt said according to NASCAR.com while testing at Richmond International Raceway, home to the final race of the regular season, earlier this week.

“I don’t think anybody wants to be on the bubble or be even worried or concerned about points leading up to Richmond, so we hope to have a couple of good weeks and really put ourselves in a pretty comfortable situation before we even come into Richmond.”

Earnhardt, who starts 19th in tonight’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, figures that the 500-lap race will come down to being able to hang on to the top end of the grid as the night progresses.

“It’s just going to be a very competitive race,” he said yesterday. “Everybody runs the same speed. It’s just going to be whoever can be up front and get track position.”

And, of course, stay out of the mayhem that so often pays a visit to Bristol. Should Earnhardt get caught in a pile-up or run into another form of trouble on the tight half-mile, then the pressure already on him to make the Chase will only grow further.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.