Dale Earnhardt Jr. says of the Chase: ‘It’s about to get serious’

Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows he will have plenty of fan support behind him during the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup.

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The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season started off with a bang for perpetual fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.

By scoring his second Daytona 500 victory, the driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was the first to punch his ticket into the newly-redesigned 16-driver Chase format.

Earnhardt and his Steve Letarte-led team did not stop there, however. Despite being solidly in the running to make the Chase, the team went on sweep both of the season’s races at Pocono Raceway.

"Having that comfort of knowing we were locked in made the rest of the season so enjoyable," Earnhardt Jr. said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. "It took a lot of pressure off, and really allowed us to just go race and have fun.

Entering the final 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup with three wins, Earnhardt Jr. understands things are about to change heading into next weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway.

With the three victories, Earnhardt Jr. admitted the team had has "been sort of on a vacation" during much of the regular season, but now that is about to change.

"It is about to get serious," he said. "It is about to get real again where you are going to have to buckle down and make every lap, every corner count whether it is practice, or whatever. Not that you haven’t been doing that. We haven’t been riding around with a backpack full of pressure and the tension like you typically do in the old format. That pressure and tension is about to climb back on the back of this team, and all the other teams when that Chase starts. Some guys carry it very well, and some guys may struggle."

Following his 12th-place finish Saturday night in Richmond, Earnhardt Jr. said the team would spend the upcoming week "in meetings with engineers and crew chiefs" trying to prepare and "get our minds right and ready for this Chase."

"Yes, we’ve sort of been on a bit of a holiday since the Daytona 500, and I’ve enjoyed that," he added. "It’s been a fun year. The cars have been great. The cars have been fast. The team has been a great experience. We have a lot of good things to look forward to obviously. Hopefully everything goes good. We keep hearing from all of our fans how this is the year, this is the year. We are going to do it this year. We’re going to win that Championship. That is what we want, and we’d love to be able to be the Champion at the end of the year. We are about to find out."

VIDEO: Uncut footage of Dale Earnhardt Jr. reliving his 2014 Daytona 500 victory