CONCORD, N.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn't really want to watch the All-Star race on television at home while drinking a beer.
But in saying last week he'd be OK doing that should he fail to qualify for Saturday night's $1 million race, Earnhardt gave the impression he didn't much care to participate.
That's not how he meant it, he insisted Friday.
"I did probably not word that correctly and gave people the wrong impression I guess; I do care about being here," he said. "I'm unassuming about my role and accept my fate whatever it might be. We're going to go out there and try to run hard and see what happens."
Earnhardt is no longer guaranteed a starting spot in Saturday night's field because his 10-year exemption for winning the race in 2000 has expired. His last chance to earn a spot was last week at Dover, but his losing streak instead stretched to 104 races.
Now he must either race his way into the event in a pre-race qualifier, or fill the spot selected by a fan vote.
The fan vote, Earnhardt explained, is "a tricky subject." As the eight-time defending winner of NASCAR's most popular driver contest, it's assumed he's a lock to win the fan vote Saturday night.
Many teams used social media last year to lobby for their drivers, but Earnhardt being part of the voting field led to drastically scaled down campaigning this year. That hasn't affected the voting, though: Race sponsor Sprint announced totals were closing in on a record 2 million votes, with Earnhardt listed among the top five-vote getters. The others are AJ Allmendinger, Bobby Labonte, Joey Logano and Brian Vickers.
But Earnhardt refuses to take the fan vote as a given.
"I guess I was making the point and going a little overboard trying to help people understand that I wasn't taking it for granted that I had won the fan vote and I was locked in and there was nothing to worry about," he said. "I'll try to do a better job of choosing my words more wisely, I guess, but I was just trying to be honest."
Earnhardt's attitude has not changed all season. When Charlotte Motor Speedway officials filmed a promotional commercial on his property earlier this year, he declined to participate because he didn't have a guaranteed spot in the race.
He's always approached the event as if he'd earn a spot by winning a points race. Since he hasn't, he's now trying to get a spot by finishing first or second in the Sprint Showdown, the qualifier held before the main event. Should he do that, he won't need the fan vote.
"I'm just going to run as hard as that car can go," Earnhardt said. "I would love to get into the All-Star race outright. I know how much the fans put into voting for me. Should we win the fan vote, it would be because of everything they did. I think they would agree with me ... (and) would like to see me win and go in outright.
"I know there is tough competition in that race, but we're going in and running hard and taking all the risks."
Earnhardt qualified 13th in the 27-car field for the Showdown. A second qualifying session for the 18 drivers already eligible for the All-Star race was paced by Kyle Busch, who beat Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle to take the top starting spot in the main race.
Should Earnhardt make it into the All-Star race, he could very well win the whole thing. Kasey Kahne was the last driver to do so, moving into the race via the fan vote and winning the $1 million in 2008.
The main race will be split into four segments. The first is 50 laps, includes a mandatory pit stop under green, and leads into a 20-lap second segment with an optional pit stop. Next up is a 20-lap segment, followed by a final 10-lap segment where the restart order is set by how the cars come off pit road on the final pit stop.
Earnhardt doesn't love it, and told Charlotte Motor Speedway president Marcus Smith as much. He thinks the first segment is too long, and the entire event needs to be shorter.
"Pack it into a smaller, neater structure and if you need more racing, more action, if you're trying to make the day and the event (longer) for the fans, bring in other attractions," he said. "But try to take the All-Star race and make it a little bit more a stick of dynamite than a whole long row of 180s."