Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s storybook season that began with a second victory in the Daytona 500 reached another level on Sunday, a vital one in the ultimate goal of winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
He is now a member of the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Assuming he attempts to qualify for the remaining seven races in the regular season, Earnhardt’s name will be on the Chase Grid at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 14 for the Chase’s first race (2 p.m. on ESPN).
He’s cleared all the hurdles – and so too has Brad Keselowski (more on him later).
First, Earnhardt has won multiple races. That most difficult of feats helped clear the toughest hurdle for Chase advancement; it guaranteed him a spot among the top 15 winners.
Second, and this happened at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he locked himself into the top 30 in points. Even if he finishes last in the remaining seven races, Earnhardt cannot fall out of the top 30 in points.
Now, he only needs to attempt to qualify for every race.
The same goes for 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski, who will return to the Chase after missing it last year.
This season has been one of redemption for Keselowski. After going winless throughout the 2013 regular season, Keselowski has poured on three victories, including wins in two of the last three races.
His victory at New Hampshire also helped lock up a top 30 spot.
So now what?
Bonus points, that’s what. Once the Chase Grid is set, all Chase drivers will have their points reset to 2,000. Then, three bonus points will be added to that total for each victory in the regular season. Spread over the three-race first round, bonus points are more important than ever, as far as advancement to the Contenders Round is concerned.
Currently, Earnhardt would start the Chase with 2,006 points. Keselowski would share the top spot with Jimmie Johnson, at 2,009 points.
Next up for potential clinchers: Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The magic number is 289. Any driver 289 points ahead of 31st place will clinch a top 30 spot. If that driver also has multiple wins, he’ll join Earnhardt and Keselowski on the Chase Grid.