Talladega II: News of note, schedule

* 2.66 Miles Of New Pavement Awaits Competitors * Dale Earnhardt Jr. Eyes Prime Opportunity * Jeff Gordon's 'Drive' Needs Jump-Start Keys To Victory: Typical Talladega Approach Spiced By New Surface Talladega Superspeedway is ...

* 2.66 Miles Of New Pavement Awaits Competitors

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. Eyes Prime Opportunity

* Jeff Gordon's 'Drive' Needs Jump-Start

Keys To Victory: Typical Talladega Approach Spiced By New Surface

Talladega Superspeedway is always a different animal and one that, like Darlington Raceway, requires a bit of "taming."

Strategy is key at NASCAR's largest track, as is teamwork -- both by design and impromptu, for drivers negotiating the draft at more than 185 mph, on some of the highest banks in all of racing.

Following are some Talladega "keys" drivers will be seeking, in Sunday's UAW-Ford 500:

• Plotting Your Move -- Coming up with the right strategy in terms of when to make your move on the race track is key. Having the ability to make the right moves at the right time can make all the difference at this superspeedway. Do you want to run up front, or do you want to lay back and make your move towards the end?

• Getting Some Drafting Help -- Cars are going to run in big packs at Talladega. Finding someone to confidently draft with can prove to be a big help.

• Taking Advantage of the New Track Surface -- For the first time in 26 years, Talladega has a new track surface. The driver who can take advantage of the new pavement, find the right groove and keep his car intact is likely to have success.

In The Loop: Data Reveals Potential 'Spoilers' At Talladega

Looking beyond the drivers involved in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, NASCAR's new Loop Data statistics give some insight, regarding possible "spoilers" for the UAW-Ford 500.

In "Chase parlance," spoilers are defined as non-Chase drivers who are able to win one of the Chase races. It happened last year at Talladega, when former series champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) reminded everyone of his restrictor-plate expertise, with a stirring upset victory.

Upset potential starts this weekend with Jamie McMurray (No. 26 IRWIN Industrial Tools Ford). Here's why: Loop Data from the last three Talladega races has McMurray with a series-leading 107.1 Driver Rating.

A spoiler this past Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet) has a great chance to do it again this weekend. His 'Dega-specific Driver Rating: 105.4, second behind McMurray.

Jeff Gordon (103.9) and Matt Kenseth (103) are third and fourth. Rounding out the top five in Driver Rating for Talladega is another non-Chase driver, Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), at 93.4.

An interesting aside: In the Talladega Driver Rating top five, four of the drivers are former series champions.

Close Quarters:

After three races in the 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, the top-five drivers in the standings are separated by merely 96 points, the closest such margin after three races in the three seasons the Chase format has been used.

In 2004, the top five were separated by 137 points; last season, the margin was 98 points.

Talladega, Etc. ...

Talladega's 2.66-mile high-banked tri-oval was repaved after the track's spring race. Early reviews, resulting from last month's tire manufacturer test sessions, were positive.

"They did an awesome job repaving it," said Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet). "It's really, really good -- really smooth. The racing should be as good as it's ever been, if not better."

Added Brian Vickers (No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet): "It's probably going to be about five-wide and about nine-deep." ... More than a dozen teams are scheduled to participate in NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow test next Monday at Talladega.

The test is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. and run until late afternoon. The test is open to the media; selected drivers will be brought to the infield media center for interviews. Check NASCARmedia.com later this week for more details.

The "COT" is the culmination of a five-year design program by NASCAR's Research and Development Center. Primary components are safety innovations, performance and competition and cost efficiency. The new car will begin competition in 2007 at the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway and will race at 16 different events next season, including the fall Talladega race.

The 2008 implementation schedule includes 26 events, with teams running the entire 2009 schedule using the Car of Tomorrow.

Big Week For Big Names: Earnhardt Jr., Gordon In Must-Improve Mode

Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. come into Talladega running sixth and seventh, respectively, in the points. Considering they have combined for a total of nine Talladega wins in their careers, it would seem safe to say this is a crucial juncture for both, a week where a title may not be able to be won -- but most certainly, it can be lost.

"This is a big weekend for us," Earnhardt said. "Talladega is always a track that shakes things up in the Chase. We can make some serious gains in the points this week with a good run.

"Obviously we lost a little bit of ground to (point leader) Jeff Burton on Sunday (at Kansas, via a 10th-place finish compared to Burton's fifth-place run), but we gained ground to get much closer to second place. It's important we gain a few positions, because we can't afford to be stuck behind six guys week after week.

"You can make up big chunks of points on one guy if he has trouble, but you can't expect all six guys ahead of you will have issues. We need some top fives and wins to catch up, but I look at some of the tracks coming up and feel really good about them. Talladega is obviously a race I look forward to, and I know our chances of winning are as good as anybody's."

Locked In: Sterling Marlin Has Final Guaranteed Spot This Week

The numbers have played out interestingly this week and, some might say, appropriately, regarding the final "locked-in" starting spot for the UAW-Ford 500.

After all, it does seem somewhat fitting that for the season's final restrictor-plate race, that 35th and final guaranteed slot goes to one of this era's greatest restrictor-plate racers, two-time Daytona 500 champion Sterling Marlin (No. 14 Waste Management Chevrolet).

Marlin is in because his car owner, Bobby Ginn, is 35th in the current car owner point standings. Any teams outside the top 35 will be forced to rely on qualifying speeds, to make the field.

Marlin won the Daytona 500 in 1994-95, then won the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in '96. He also has two Talladega wins; they came consecutively, in the fall of '95 and the spring of '96.

Crew Member Spotlight: Alabamans Foster and Crooks Help Stewart Get a Dramatic Victory

The No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet team got a much-needed win last week at Kansas as Tony Stewart picked up his third victory of the season, coasting across the finish line completely out of fuel. Hueytown, Alabama's Ronny Crooks serves as a shock specialist on the No. 20 team while Birmingham resident Todd Foster is the rear tire changer on the orange Monte Carlo. Both Alabama natives will be putting forth their best efforts this Sunday to help Stewart get his first win at Talladega and his second straight NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victory.

Rookie Report: Hamlin In A Runaway Thus Far

Clint Bowyer (No. 07 DirecTV Chevrolet) is by no means conceding the 2006 Raybestos Rookie of the Year title to Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Chevrolet), despite Hamlin's season-long dominance of the six-driver competition. Bowyer bested Hamlin on Sunday at Kansas Speedway by nine positions (ninth-18th).

Hamlin has 264 points heading into Talladega. Bowyer is second with 219. Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target Dodge) is a distant third, at 191.

Hamlin has been the Raybestos Rookie of the Race 14 times this season, while Bowyer has had that honor seven times and Sorenson five.

Where In The World Is Ken Schrader?

Ken Schrader (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford) continues to be, arguably, the busiest auto racer in the country, finding time to race in a variety of disciplines in addition to NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition.

This week, in addition to Talladega, he'll race three other times -- Tuesday (North Alabama Speedway); and Friday/Saturday (Talladega Short Track).

Ken Schrader's 2006 race totals
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series -- 29
NASCAR Busch Series -- 8
Budweiser Shootout -- 1
Copper World -- 2
Short track (dirt, late-model, etc.) -- 59

Manufacturers' Championship Update: Battle Ongoing For Second Place

Chevrolet has clinched its 30th Manufacturers Championship in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, but a tight battle is being waged for second place between Ford and Dodge.

Chevrolet clinched the title on Sept. 17, at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Coming into Talladega, Ford holds a slim edge -- 165-164 -- over Dodge.

Ford has won the championship 15 times. Dodge has won it twice -- in 1970 and '75. Dodge returned to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series in 2001 after a long absence.

On Deck: Lowe's Motor Speedway Hosts Fifth Event in 10-Race 'Chase'

Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. will host the Bank of America 500 -- the fifth event in the 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup -- on Saturday, Oct. 14. (7 p.m. ET, NBC).

Chase participant Jimmie Johnson is the event's defending champion. Johnson had a four-race/two-season LMS victory streak snapped this past May, when Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/ UAW Dodge) won the Coca-Cola 600.

Johnson has a total of five LMS victories in points races, plus two victories in the annual NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge (2003 and this year).

Fast Facts:

The Race: UAW-Ford 500
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway

The Date: Oct. 8
The Time: 2:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: NBC, 1:30 p.m. (ET)

Track Layout: 2.66-mile tri-oval
Distance: 500 miles (188 laps)

Purse: $5,272,231

2005 Winner: Dale Jarrett
2005 Pole: Elliott Sadler

Pre-Race On-Track Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 1:45-2:45 p.m. and 3:15-4:15 p.m. Saturday -- Qualifying, 11:10 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Ken Schrader , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Martin Truex Jr. , Brian Vickers , Clint Bowyer , Elliott Sadler , Denny Hamlin , Reed Sorenson