|Crap Shoot this week; even Danica Patrick has a shot to win|
Yes, it’s Talladega Time. No doubt about it, any time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series engines fire at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway there can be 43 favorites. Anybody’s race? You bet.
The mammoth Alabama facility has produced 10 first-time winners – among them reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski. Some have never won again but are able to regale their grandchildren with tales of carrying the checkered flag to ‘Dega’s Victory Lane.
Perhaps either David Ragan or David Gilliland of Front Row Motorsports will be able to provide their up-and-coming organization its first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. Both drivers have top-five finishes on restrictor-plate tracks; Gilliland a Daytona 500 pole in 2007 and Ragan top 10s in both Talladega races a year ago.
Several top-flight teams carry early-season momentum into this week’s race. Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson continues as the standings leader and Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are firmly ensconced in the top five. Junior hopes to capture a sixth Talladega victory and first since 2004.
Both Richard Childress Racing and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates enjoyed last weekend’s night race at Richmond. RCR’s Kevin Harvick, a Talladega winner in 2010, posted the organization’s first points victory of the year. A late caution snatched the win from Juan Pablo Montoya’s pocket but the Colombian still snapped a 74-race top-five drought. EGR teammate Jamie McMurray, a Daytona 500 and Talladega winner, is contending for the organization’s first Chase berth since 2009.
Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole winner Danica Patrick hopes to carry her Daytona momentum – an eighth-place finish – to another restrictor-plate track. Her only ‘Dega experience came during last season’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race in which she finished 13th.
JR Motorsports, driver Regan Smith and crew chief Greg Ives – a former Hendrick Motorsports engineer – have closed to within a point of NASCAR Nationwide Series leader Sam Hornish Jr. The team ended 2012 with a victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway and continues to put the No. 5 Chevrolet among the leaders during this year’s opening races.
Experience pays dividends at Talladega Superspeedway where every NASCAR Nationwide Series winner since 2006 has been a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup competitor. Joey Logano won the Aaron’s 312 last season.
Four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regulars take advantage of the break in the schedule to make NASCAR Nationwide Series appearances this week.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES – AARON’S 499, SUNDAY, MAY 5, 1 P.M. EDT ON FOX
Talladega Identifies Present, Future NASCAR Sprint Cup Stars
Talladega Superspeedway offers validation for some; opportunity for others. Five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions – Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon – have won at the 2.66-mile track since 2007. The track also has provided first NASCAR Sprint Cup wins for 10 drivers including Keselowski (2009) and Brian Vickers (2006).
Junior Hopes Daytona 500 Success Equals Sixth Talladega Victory
Only two drivers have won more Talladega races than Dale Earnhardt Jr., who fashioned a four-in-a-row streak between 2001 and 2003 and added a fifth victory in 2004. Junior’s record has been so-so since joining Hendrick Motorsports five years ago – a second place in the 2009 Aaron’s 499 among two top-five and four top-10 finishes. Earnhardt looks to continue his 2013 restrictor-plate momentum, having finished second in the Daytona 500 behind HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson.
Odds Favor Richard Childress Racing Drivers To Contend In Aaron’s 499
Talladega Superspeedway couldn’t come at a better time for Richard Childress Racing. Teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton finished first and fifth at Richmond and Paul Menard ranks 10th in NASCAR Sprint Cup points. RCR drivers have won an even dozen times at Talladega; most by any owner. Harvick won the 2010 Aaron’s 499 with then-teammate Clint Bowyer taking his RCR Chevrolet to Victory Lane twice in the past five Talladega races.
Front Row Motorsports Could Be Next First-Time Winner
Front Row Motorsports continues to improve its standing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 offers another opportunity for Bob Jenkins’ organization to capture its first victory. The team’s two top-five finishes – David Gilliland, third in the Daytona 500 in 2011; and David Ragan, fourth in last fall’s event at Talladega Superspeedway – came on restrictor-plate tracks. Ragan finished seventh in Talladega’s 2012 spring race, while Gilliland posted a ninth-place finish in the previous year’s event.
Roush Fenway Fords Strong At ‘Dega A Year Ago
Matt Kenseth has moved on but his 2.0 average finish in last year’s four restrictor-plate races suggests that Roush Fenway Racing will bring a stable of fast Fords to this week’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. RFR has won four times at Talladega – with Kenseth last fall, Jamie McMurray in 2009 and Mark Martin in 1995 and 1997. Gregg Biffle finished fifth and sixth in last year’s Talladega races, as well as sixth in this year’s Daytona 500. Carl Edwards enters this week’s race ranked second in the points standings, 43 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Edwards’ best Talladega finish is fifth.
McMurray, Montoya, EGR On The Rebound
The fog figuratively has lifted for Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. McMurray counts three top-10 finishes and a top-12 points ranking; Montoya broke a 74-race top-five finish drought at Richmond and EGR appears ready to contend for a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. McMurray is a former Talladega and Daytona 500 winner and Montoya has twice won the Coors Light Pole at the Alabama superspeedway.
Patrick Bids To Replicate Daytona Success At Talladega
Fair to say this continues to be a learning season for Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Danica Patrick. Fair to say that her Daytona 500 performance well could be a precursor to a break-through race on Sunday at another restrictor-plate layout. Patrick won the Coors Light Pole for the Daytona 500, kept her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet at the front of the field until the end and finished a solid eighth.
- NASCAR Media Services