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When NASCAR tweaked the Chase for Sprint Cup Championship, expanding the field from 12 to 16 drivers and whittling it to a final four in a phased elimination process, a driver was a virtual lock for the Chase if he won during the 26-race regular season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the first to reap the benefit of joining the winners’ club at the Daytona 500.
With the pressure of making the Chase lifted, Earnhardt was allowed to take certain liberties with race strategy. At Las Vegas two weeks ago, Steve Letarte, Earnhardt’s crew chief, kept his driver out on the track. It was a roll of the dice that wound up backfiring