Sports

Chase is on for drivers looking to secure spots in NASCAR’s playoffs

Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks with fans at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks with fans at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday. AP

For as unpredictable as last NASCAR season was, this year’s campaign – aside from the entertaining catastrophe that annually is the two Talladega races – the 2016 campaign has proven to be anticlimactic.

On any given weekend this year, you can pick from a pool of four drivers – Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowsi – to pull into the winner’s circle at the end of the day. To this point, they account for nine wins on the circuit, while all others have a total of three.

With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series having reached its unofficial halfway point with its all-star race, the upcoming portion of the schedule has a singular purpose – qualify for the Chase.

Find your way into the pool of a dozen drivers, and anything can happen.

Last year’s Chase is a perfect example.

Despite the fact those four have dominated in terms of win total, Kevin Harvick has served as the series’ most consistent driver, and as a result earned the distinction as its points leader.

The likes of Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and young gun Chase Elliott find themselves in the mix, along with the driver considered the most popular – but also possibly going through one of his most frustrating seasons on record.

If the campaign ended today, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would find himself in the Chase, but just barely.

Son of “The Intimidator,” Earnhardt has four top-five finishes to his name. But in his last four races, he hasn’t finished better than 13th, which includes him crashing out of contention at Talladega Superspeedway and Dover International Speedway.

Fortunately, tracks for which he has thrived in the past loom on the schedule.

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte is among them, along with the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July.

All it takes is one win to change your fortunes, and more importantly a single trip to the winner’s circle can qualify a driver for the Chase.

Dale Jr. Is good enough, has the financial backing and best equipment money can buy.

All that is left for Earnhardt is to do it.

Of note …

St. James continues its quest to become the second Horry County baseball program to claim a state title, traveling Monday to Belton-Honea Path in the Class AAA state championship series. The Sharks must win Monday to force s decisive Game 3 on Tuesday night. Should the series come to that, it would take place 6 p.m. at River Bluff High School in Lexington. … The No. 20 Coastal Carolina baseball team, fresh off a three-game sweep of Campbell, seeks to finish off a dominant run through the Big South, kicking off conference tournament play Tuesday against Radford. The double-elimination tournament will take place at Lexington County Stadium in Lexington. … Following a six-game homestand, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans head to Zebulon, N.C., for a three-game set with the Carolina Mudcats before returning home for the holiday weekend for a four-game series with Wilmington.

Joe L. Hughes II: 843-444-1702, @thejournalist44

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