Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Talladega Storylines for 2012 Aaron's 499

Dale Earnhardt Jr was a runner-up at Daytona with pack racing (Getty)
NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Racing continue on the sport’s biggest stage – 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway – this weekend. Aerodynamic and other procedural changes returned traditional pack racing to Daytona International Speedway in February and should have a similar effect at Talladega.

Still, last year’s Aaron’s 499 was statistically compelling with a record number of lead changes and a margin of victory – 0.002-seconds between winner Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer – that matched the NASCAR Sprint Cup record.

Five-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. could bag two birds with the same slingshot on Sunday – giving Hendrick Motorsports its 200th victory and in the process snap a 138-race winless streak dating to June 2008. HMS has won 11 times at Talladega, one fewer victory than Richard Childress Racing. RCR has won three of the last four Talladega races.

Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 is the Nationwide Series’ only 2012 visit to Talladega Superspeedway. Kyle Busch, the defending winner, climbs back into his No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. Older brother Kurt Busch gave the team its first series victory last weekend in Richmond. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. continues his bid for a second consecutive championship. He’ll need to better last year’s 38th-place finish, one of just two DNFs in his title season.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series continues on hiatus as teams prepare for the May 18 North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Several drivers – Justin Lofton in a Nevada off-road race and James Buescher in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Talladega – will step outside their trucks for racing this Saturday.

Pack Is Back At Talladega After Successful Return Of Pack Racing At Daytona
Traditional pack racing returned to Daytona International Speedway in February making this year’s Daytona 500 one of the memorable in history. Look for more of the same in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, at 2.66 miles in length the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ longest track. Talladega equals excitement: Last year’s Aaron’s 499 matched series records for lead changes (88) and closest margin of victory (0.002 seconds). Fact: every Talladega race finishing under the green flag since introduction of electonic scoring in 1993 has recorded an MOV of under a half second.

Daytona 500 Winner Matt Kenseth On Pack Racing:
“I think you will see racing similar to Daytona. I don’t know why it would be much different. Daytona has the new pavement and a lot of grip just like Talladega. It is the same rules package so I think you will see racing like you did during Speedweeks.”

AJ Allmendinger On Pack Racing:
“I’m excited to get back and hopefully have that big pack racing again. Hopefully, that kind of stays the same as Daytona. To me, to get back in the big packs and getting back to that will be a lot better than over the last couple of years. Hopefully, it continues the same way it was at Daytona. Daytona, to me, was great racing throughout the whole race. I wouldn’t say that I’m ever excited to go to Talladega, but I look forward to getting back to how big pack racing used to be there.”

Denny Hamlin On Pack Racing:
“I think that the pack-racing that we had at Daytona was amazing. I thought it was great racing. The two car tandem didn't win the race -- that's a good thing. Really, they got us to where we were running a fast enough speed that handling became somewhat of an issue. So, all those things I think will equal good racing at Talladega if they keep everything the way that it was."

May Day for June Bug?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. last led the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings after his fifth and last win at Talladega in October 2004. He has four top-10 finishes in the last five spring races at Talladega and a 13th-place finish in the fifth, two years ago.

Following his second runner-up finish of the season at Richmond last weekend, Dale Jr. said: “The team is confident, we're feeling good. We feel like we're competing well. Really close to winning a race. We ain't really raced for a win yet and lost one, so I wouldn't count tonight. But we're getting better at running the top 5 and top 10s. We'll just try to keep doing that. There's too many variables going into races at Talladega whether you feel confident winning or not. There's just too much going on there.”

RCR On A Roll At Talladega

Richard Childress Racing has won three of the last four races at Talladega Superspeedway, and Childress has more wins (12) than any other owner at the track. Childress began his driving career at the track in 1969, and on Thursday, the NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame by NASCAR President Mike Helton.

Kevin Harvick had this to say about his team’s success at Talladega: “I think if you really look a little deeper into that, there’s some days where we just finish the last few laps and run probably slower than we need to run. But that’s always been something that Richard (Childress) has pushed on the guys is to make sure that when you start something, you do your best to not have that DNF on the chart. So, they do a good job at fixing things and getting them back out on the race track. We’ve definitely torn-up our share of stuff at Talladega as well. But it has been a good place for us. Hopefully we can keep putting ourselves in the right spot and keep that record intact.”

Harvick and fellow RCR drivers Jeff Burton and Paul Menard have yet to win in 2012. Harvick ranks seventh in points.

Bowyer Hopes To Carry Dega Success To MWR
Clint Bowyer has several reasons to be excited about racing at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend. Bowyer finished second in last year’s Aaron’s 499 and won the track’s fall race in 2011. He’s also fighting to a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ having just missed qualifying for NASCAR’s post season a year ago. Bowyer, 12th in the standings but just 14 points out of 10th-place, left Richard Childress Racing at season’s end and bids to carry his Talladega success to Michael Waltrip Racing. Teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Michael Waltrip logged top-10 finishes in last year’s fall race. MWR has a single top-five finish at Talladega: David Reutimann’s fourth in the fall of 2010.

Hendrick #200 wins Watch
In addition to reaching the 200-win mark in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Rick Hendrick is a win away from tying Richard Childress for most wins at Talladega with 12. Jeff Gordon has the most wins among active drivers with 6 while teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. has 5. The all-time winner is Dale Earnhardt with 10. Gordon’s last Talladega victory came in 2007 when he swept both spring and fall races. Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is the defending winner of the Aarons 499.

Newman Coors Light Pole Watch
A Coors Light Pole away from 50, Ryan Newman heads to Talladega, where he has no poles and a 14.3 starting position.

Shaking Out The Points
With nine races in the books, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has passed the one-third mark of the 26-race regular season. Just two who didn’t qualify for the Chase a year ago – leader Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. – appear in the top 10 of the standings following the April 28 Capital City 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Ten of the current top 13 qualified for last year’s Chase either via top 10 or Wild Card route. Jeff Gordon (17th) and Kurt Busch (26th) are pretty much consigned to seeking Wild Card berths if they are contend for this year’s championship.

This Date In Talladega History
The Aaron's 499 has been run on May 6 four times. In 1973, David Pearson won against the biggest field in the track's history (60 cars). In 1979, another NASCAR Hall of Famer and a member of the Alabama Gang, Bobby Allison, won. In 1984, a third NASCAR Hall of Famer, Cale Yarborough went to Victory Lane. All three won from the pole. In 1990, Dale Earnhardt claimed his third of a record 10 wins.

Bill Elliott will be appearing at Oxford and Pell City Walmarts on Saturday as part of Walmart’s 50th anniversary Legends of Racing initiative. Saturday, May 5 is the 27th anniversary of overcoming nearly a two-lap deficit under green-flag conditions to claim the win on his way to becoming “Million Dollar Bill” at Darlington later that year.

Bowtie Brigade Savors Talladega Competition
Since 1999, Chevrolet has won at least one race every year at Talladega except 2008. Chevy has won the last four races at the track and four of the last five. Jamie McMurray hopes to repeat his victory of fall 2009 and snap a 48-race winless streak. Teresa Earnhardt – part of the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates ownership – won five consecutive Talladega races from 2001-2003.

Kyle Busch Celebrates 27th Birthday This Wednesday
Busch, who recorded his 24th Sprint Cup victory at Richmond last weekend, said: “To go to Talladega next week, anything can unfold there. I think I've been crashed all but one time, and that time I didn't crash I almost crashed and won the race, so that was cool.” Busch joined older brother Kurt in 26th on the series’ all-time victory roster and with his 105th NASCAR national series victory stands one win behind second-place David Pearson.

- NASCAR Media Services

No comments: