Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he is not putting himself under pressure to return to the Chase this year but believes his team to be good enough to make it into the playoff series when the field is set at Richmond tonight.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver arrives at the final race of the regular season needing a 20th-place finish or better to secure a place in the championship battle, regardless of his rivals' results.
Earnhardt has missed the Chase for the past two seasons, but despite not winning thus far in 2011 he has been able to remain in the top 10 in the standings for most of the season and is on the verge of entering the Chase by virtue of his consistency. However, he is open-minded about his chances of remaining eligible for the Chase while hoping he can make the most of the opportunity of possibly returning to the NASCAR Sprint Cup elite.
"Whatever happens is going to happen," said Earnhardt. "That is just what you are going to have to live with at the end of the night. We work really hard all year long and I feel good about our program but it will be disappointing to miss an opportunity to race for the championship if we don't get in [on Saturday] night.
"I still like our opportunities going forward. As a group, we will just work hard. I feel like we are a good enough team to get it done tomorrow."
The 36-year-old last made the Chase during his first year at Hendrick in 2008 but finished the season at the bottom of the Chase standings. Earnhardt does not want a repeat of such a performance and instead prefers to place his focus on improving his team, even if it is at the expense of missing the cut this year.
"I put more pressure on myself the other times trying to make the Chase," Earnhardt said. "Making the Chase is important, but I have made the Chase before. I know what that feels like. It is great to make the Chase, it is good being in that group of guys but my main concern is for us to be more competitive as a team.
"It is really frustrating to make the Chase and then not be as competitive as you want to be during those races. That is really all I am thinking about."
He added: "We have a good opportunity to make the Chase and I think as a group we could have performed better in the last several weeks and what do we need to do to do that. That is really where my concern lies, where my worry is and what my mind is on: trying to be a better race team. Because if we are going to be in the Chase you want to put up a good account for yourself. You don't want to be a guy just taking up a spot in there."
Earnhardt starts Saturday night's race from 27th on the grid, right beside Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin, who provisionally holds on to the final wild card entry into the Chase.