Monday, April 11, 2011

Talladega Storylines: It's Wide Open For All 43 Drivers

Talladega should be a welcome sight for a few drivers
Talladega Superspeedway offers up a few guarantees – a word that’s almost nonexistent in the sport – every time NASCAR visits the 2.66-mile track.

There will be lead changes, and lots of them. Last year’s spring race featured a NASCAR record 88 lead changes. The second ’Dega race had 87.

There will be leaders, and lots of them. That record fell last year too, when 29 different drivers led at least one lap in the April race.

And Dale Earnhardt Jr. will lead laps. Admittedly, maybe that’s not a guarantee. But it’s darn close. He has led laps in each of the last 10 Talladega races, and in 20 of his 22 starts.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series kicks off an assuredly wild weekend, on Saturday with the Aaron’s 312.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series follows up with the Aaron’s 499, on Sunday afternoon.

Storylines follow…


Best Track, Best Time For Surging Earnhardt
Junior finished runner-up in 2009 to Kes
Born in Kannapolis, N.C., Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s actual home track is Charlotte Motor Speedway. But really, it should be Talladega Superspeedway.

The Earnhardt family has practically owned the joint going on 30 years now. His father, Dale Earnhardt, won 10 races at Talladega, more than any other driver. Junior has five wins there – including four consecutive victories from 2001-03 – making the track his most successful. This weekend, he looks to end a career-long 100-race winless drought.

Earnhardt Jr., second in pre-race Driver Rating at Talladega (92.7), heads into this weekend with momentum not seen in three years. His points position – sixth – is his best after seven races since 2008, his first year with Hendrick Motorsports.

He scored a ninth-place finish at Texas, his fourth top 10 of the season. Last year, he had eight. In 2009, he had five.

Roush Fenway Racing: Short Lived Dominance?
Roush Fenway Racing placed all four of its cars in the top seven last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, including race winner Matt Kenseth. In doing so, Carl Edwards vaulted back into the series points lead, and Kenseth moved to third.

But a big test awaits Roush Fenway this weekend. Talladega has always presented problems for the team. It has three wins at Talladega, but only one since 1997. The team’s average finish at Talladega – 18.9 – makes the track its worst in terms of average finish.

RCR: Restrictor Plate Whizzes
Happy Harvick after 2010 win
Richard Childress Racing swept last year’s Talladega races – Kevin Harvick won the first, Clint Bowyer the second – and have won three of the last four restrictor plate races.

Three of the four RCR drivers are in the top 12 (Harvick is ninth, Paul Menard is 11th and Clint Bowyer’s 12th), with Harvick the only driver with multiple wins this season.

RCR is the all-time leader in owner wins at Talladega, with 11 (one ahead of Hendrick Motorsports’ 10).

Go-Time For Marquee Drivers
There are some big surprises – in the form of big names – outside the top 20.

Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup favorites Jamie McMurray (24th in points), Jeff Burton (25th), David Reutimann (27th) and Joey Logano (28th) are all in danger of missing NASCAR’s “playoffs” if their respective seasons don’t improve – and fast. Same goes for 2010 runner-up Denny Hamlin, who sits 20th in points.

The Chase “wild card” offers a bit of hope to some of the marquee names toiling outside the top 10. After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top 10 drivers will earn a Chase berth. Spot 11 and 12 will go to the two drivers outside the top 10 with the most victories, provided they are in the top 20.

The above names might soon need to rip off a few wins over the next 19 races, or else find themselves out of championship contention.

Plate Prodigy Bayne Goes For Repeat
Trevor Bayne returns restrictor plate racing, a style that clearly suits him.

Bayne, of course, won the Daytona 500 to open the 2011 season, the last trip the series took to a restrictor plate track.

In that event, Bayne famously worked well with Jeff Gordon as a drafting partner throughout. Gordon is the active leader in Talladega wins, with six.

Talladega: Home Of Competitive Balance
There are lead changes and leaders galore at Talladega.

The same holds true in terms of race winners. There have been seven different winners in the last seven races.

- NASCAR Media Services

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