Dale Jr. looks to nail down Chase berth tonight

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Back-to-back Top-10 finishes at Bristol (10th) and Atlanta (eighth) has allowed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to breathe a little bit in regards to making the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He only has to finish 32nd or better to clinch a spot in the post-season tonight at Richmond International Raceway.

A big problem at RIR could still keep him from making the post-season, but as he indicated on Thursday, his timely efforts in the last two events has him confident enough that he can just focus on the race itself.

“It’s just a normal weekend to me,” he said. “Fortunate enough we’ve had enough good runs over the last couple weeks to put ourselves in this situation, not have to be nervous or worried.

“It wasn’t much fun over the last couple weeks having to make sure we didn’t make any mistakes and give up too many points to the guys behind us.”

After finishes of 30th and 36th at Watkins Glen and Michigan respectively, Earnhardt slipped to seventh in the Sprint Cup standings. But he’s been able to stop his descent, and enters Richmond tonight with a 37-point cushion over 11th place.

Still, it hasn’t been an easy month for Earnhardt, fretting over the big picture and trying to keep his year from unraveling. It’s been a marked contrast to last year, which saw him manage to clinch his Chase spot with two races to go in the regular season.

“I definitely understood last year when we were set, locked in, that it was a much easier ride, much more enjoyable,” he said. “The last couple weeks have been pretty stressful from a points standpoint.

“[It’s] difficult for you because you have to focus so much on those points. You have to focus on all those guys – that handful, half a dozen guys – that are around you in points, wonder what they’re doing. You can’t help it.”

But with a Chase spot in sight, Earnhardt believes that he and his Hendrick Motorsports team can be a contender in the ten-race stretch.

However, they’re not in just yet. And with tonight sure to be pressure-packed for everyone trying to keep their championship hopes alive, Earnhardt seems to think that patience will be necessary on his part during the race.

“There are guys in there that aren’t going to make the Chase, aren’t too happy about their situation, going to have some pretty short fuses out there,” he said. “You don’t want to rough up anybody. You want to take your time getting around some of these guys.”

MRTI: pre-season testing Day 3 notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Day 3 of pre-season testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway saw the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda continue testing for the second day in a row, with each series completing three sessions on what was their final day of running.

Quick reports on both series are below.

Pro Mazda: Cunha Surges to the Front

While Saturday saw Pro Mazda newcomers like Oliver Askew, Parker Thompson, and Rinus VeeKey lead the way, Sunday saw a pair of second-year Pro Mazda drivers take their turns at the top of the speed charts. In the combined results, Juncos Racing’s Carlos Cunha turned the fastest lap of the final session, also good enough to be the outright fastest lap of the weekend, taking advantage of a fresh set of Cooper Tires to do so.

“I’m really happy, Juncos Racing is an amazing team,” Cunha said of the team’s performance. “On track, we are always improving, never going backwards and that’s very good. We have tested a lot but we still need to learn a lot about the car, though we are almost to a perfect setup. The team has given me everything I need to be comfortable inside the car, to know what the car needs, and to know what I need to be a better driver. We have time to improve and we are moving forward quickly.”

Fellow sophomore driver Sting Ray Robb, now with Team Pelfrey, was right behind Cunha in second.

Combined results across both Saturday and Sunday can be found here.

USF2000: Kirkwood, Cape Motorsports Stay On Top of Deep USF2000 Field

New Cape Motorsports driver Kyle Kirkwood, who topped Session 2 on Saturday, stayed on top of the combined speed charts across the weekend on the strength of his best lap from Session 3 of the weekend on Saturday.

Pabst Racing’s Rasmus Lindh was right behind Kirkwood, on the strength of his quick lap from Session 1.

However, Sunday’s running saw a different driver assert his authority, with Kaylen Frederick, Lindh’s teammate at Pabst, turning the fastest lap during the final session.

Frederick ended up fourth in the combined results, which can be viewed here.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will take to the Homestead-Miami road course on Monday for the final day of testing for the Mazda Road to Indy.

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