Should Dale Earnhardt Jr. worry about making the Chase?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had another rough outing Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway, where he got caught in a 22-car pileup and finished 21st in the 40-car field for the Coke Zero 400. 

Although the wreck was in no way Earnhardt’s fault, it was the eighth time in the last nine races that he’s finished outside the top 10. And in those last nine races, he’s fallen from sixth in points to 13th.

All of which begs one very large question: Should Earnhardt be worried about making the Chase for the Sprint Cup?

The short answer is yes. 

He should absolutely be worried about making the Chase. 

The race to the Chase has heated up after Daytona

Earnhardt wasn’t finished well lately and right now sits only 28 points ahead of Jamie McMurray, the first driver on the outside of the Chase bubble.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated.

First off, this time of year, any winless driver — not just Earnhardt — needs to be worried about making the Chase. 

Already, 11 drivers have won races, which means they are in the Chase. As of right now, there are only five Chase spots available for winless drivers trying to get into NASCAR’s playoffs on points.

And if any other drivers who are winless so far in 2016 win one of the final nine races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season, that will reduce the number of available spots to get in via points. 

How many new winners will there be in the next nine races is impossible to predict. But history suggests it won’t be more than three and probably not that many.

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So if Earnhardt finishes well over the next nine races, he still stands an excellent chance of making the Chase on points, regardless of whether he wins in that time. 

Of the nine tracks left in the regular season, Earnhardt has a combined eight victories at Bristol, Richmond, Michigan and Pocono. 

Just three races ago at Pocono, Earnhardt finished second, one of three Hendrick drivers to finish in the top six in the race. 

So, Earnhardt is not at all in a bad position. 

But unless and until he wins or opens up a big points lead on the other winless drivers, there’s still going to be that nagging uncertainty. 

At this point, though, there’s nothing left to do but go out and win and if he can’t win, he needs to finish strong.

"Hopefully, we can put a string of races together that will give us a good cushion between us and the next guys fighting for those last few spots," Earnhardt said Thursday at Daytona.  

Obviously, we need to get a win to put all that to bed, but nothing is guaranteed. If we don’t get a win going into the Chase we are going to have to do well in these next 10 races and just be real consistent."

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