* Matt Kenseth regains top spot in standings
* Performance by Dodge making Manufacturers' Championship competitive
NEWS AND NOTES
Kenseth Back on Top ... For the second time this season, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford) is the series points leader. Kenseth led the standings following the race at Bristol last month. His third-place finish at Phoenix gave him his fifth top-10 finish of the season, with all of the finishes coming in the top five. Kenseth's fast start is quite the opposite of how he began the 2005 campaign, as he was 28th in the point standings through eight races a year ago.
Like Harvick, Kenseth will also be seeking his first restrictor-plate win this weekend at Talladega. While he has posted three straight top-15 finishes at Talladega, he has just a 17.25 finishing average at the superspeedway. Kenseth finished 11th at this race last year and third at the October race.
Dodge Continues to Hold its Own in Manufacturers' Championship Standings ... Dodge and Ford continue to battle it out for second place in this week's Manufacturers' Championship standings, as the competition remains strong between the three automobile manufacturers. Dodge has held the second spot over the last four races. Thanks to six top-10 finishes by Chevrolet drivers at Phoenix, Chevrolet stays in first place, with a 56-49 advantage over Dodge. Ford is a close third with 47 points. Dodge drivers have posted three victories in 2006 -- with Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) (2) and Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) (1) leading the charge. The three victories by Dodge already equals last season's total and is on pace to be the most by the manufacturer in more than 30 years. The last time Dodge reached double digits in season wins was in 1975 with 14 victories -- 13 of those turned in by seven-time champion Richard Petty.
Talladega Dominance ... Two active drivers come to mind when the attention focuses on success at Talladega -- Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Between the two, they have won eight of the last 12 Talladega races. Gordon leads all full-time drivers with 11 top-five finishes at Talladega, including four victories. Gordon will be gunning for his third consecutive spring race victory at the superspeedway. Earnhardt has won five times at Talladega, topping all active drivers. He also has a 10.66 finishing average in his 12 races at Talladega, the best of all active drivers.
A Chevrolet has won 13 of the last 14 races at Talladega. Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) snapped Chevrolet's 13-race winning streak with a victory there last October. A Dodge has not won at Talladega since August 1976, when Dave Marcis won the Talladega 500.
More Talladega Tidbits ... In a move to discourage the overly-aggressive bump drafting that has raised some issues at the restrictor-plate races, NASCAR has modified the front bumper for this week's race at Talladega. The steel plate that has been in the front bumpers for the restrictor-plate races has been removed, resulting in a bumper that is modeled after the one used at other tracks where the speeds are similar, such as California Speedway, Michigan International Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Starting near the front at Talladega doesn't necessarily translate into a successful run. Four of the last seven races at Talladega have been won from starting positions outside the top 10. All seven were won from a top 20 starting position, including two from the front row (second-place), both in 2005. The second spot on the Talladega grid seems to be the best place to be, as 18 winners have come from the second-place starting position, the most of any starting position. No pole winner has won at Talladega since 1998 when Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge) won the DieHard 500, dating back 16 races ago. Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford) has tallied 21 top-10 finishes at Talladega, the most among fulltime drivers. Martin is a two-time winner there, in 1997 and 1995. In his 1997 victory, Martin recorded the fastest average speed in NASCAR history, with an average of 188.354 mph. Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) and Kurt Busch have each posted three consecutive top-10 finishes at Talladega, the longest current streaks of any drivers. Stewart has turned in seven top-five and nine top-10 showings in his 14 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup starts at Talladega, but still seeks his first career win at the track.
"Talladega is a track where you can't do anything on your own," says Stewart. "You have to strictly rely on what everybody else around you is doing. We haven't won there, but look how many second-place finishes (five) we've had. Our finishing average is pretty high -- higher than most for the amount of races we've run there. So I'm pretty satisfied with the way we've run there."
Besides Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth, three other members of this week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup top 10 -- Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet) and Casey Mears (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) -- will be looking for their first victory at a restrictor-plate track.
"In the Loop" -- Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth Rank Near Top of Several Key Categories ... Reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Tony Stewart currently leads NASCAR Loop Data cumulative season statistical categories. Stewart has the top Driver Rating (116.8), Average Running Position (7.365), Fastest Driver Early in a Run, Percentage of Laps Run On Lead Lap (97.63), Laps Led (790) and Consecutive Passes Without Being Passed (33). Stewart has recorded the fastest lap on the track a total of 324 times, tops on the circuit. Stewart also has the top Driver Rating (109.4) from the two Talladega races in 2005.
On the season, Kenseth ranks second in Driver Rating (109.6) and Average Running Position (9.034) and third in the Percentage of Laps Run on Lead Lap (95.66). Based on the two Talladega races in 2005, Kenseth has the top Average Running Position (8.336).
Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard/Subway Ford) has run well at Talladega, evidenced by his top-10 ranking in five Loop Data statistical categories. However, he is currently 21st in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. Biffle ranks first in Miles Led (796.84); second in Fastest Drivers Early in a Run; sixth in Driver Rating (101.9); 10th in Average Running Position (14.454), and first in Average Starting Position (5.8). One statistic that could perhaps explain Biffle's struggles thus far could be his 23rd ranking in Percentage of Laps Run on the Lead Lap (70.98%).
Setting the Field: Top 35 in 2006 Owner Points Locked In ... Teams ranked in the top 35 of the current 2006 car owner standings will be guaranteed starting positions each week.
Heading into Talladega, the No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge, owned by Ray Evernham and driven by Jeremy Mayfield, is ranked 35th in the car owner point standings. The No. 55 NAPA Dodge, with team owner Doug Bawel and driven by Michael Waltrip, has fallen out of the top 35 standings and will be required to qualify on time this weekend at Talladega. Waltrip is a former winner at Talladega (9/28/03) and in his 40 career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts there, he has posted 12 top-10 finishes. In fact, Waltrip and Dale Jarrett are the only two drivers other than Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., to win NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races at Talladega since April, 2001. That is a string of nine straight races at the track. The No. 55 Dodge is 40 points out of 35th place.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Run Special Paint Scheme at Talladega ... The No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have a new look this weekend at Talladega. The usually red No. 8 will be adorned in black with white lettering and red and silver stripes to honor the life and career of his father the late Dale Earnhardt. Ten of Earnhardt's 76 career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victories came at Talladega -- more than any other driver. The elder Earnhardt will be inducted posthumously into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega Thursday evening. This Saturday, April 29, would have been Earnhardt's 55th birthday.
From the Archives ... Jeff Gordon has a chance to capture his third straight Aaron's 499 race, a feat that has not been achieved since David Pearson did it in the early 1970s.
Pearson's Wood Brothers Mercury was the scourge of the superspeedways in its day, in part by the success it had at Talladega. The team's first victory came in 1972 when Pearson started on the front row and beat polesitter Bobby Isaac by 4.9 seconds.
The following year, Pearson's second win again came from outside the front row in a record 60-car field. Pearson's Mercury had a lap lead over runner-up Donnie Allison.
The team's third consecutive Talladega victory came in 1974 with Pearson starting on the pole. Pearson led the last 16 laps for a .017 second victory over Benny Parsons. A total of 52 lead changes among 13 drivers made for one of the most exciting events of the season. Pearson led the field on 11 different occasions.
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Test Set for Lowe's ... More than 40 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams are expected to test at Lowe's Motor Speedway May 1-3. NASCAR implemented a new test policy for the 2006 season and next week's test will be the fourth of six tests scheduled this year.
Cars will test the track's newly paved surface from 1--9 p.m., during that three day period.
The new test policy is part of some recent, comprehensive changes NASCAR has made, including the single engine rule and gear ratio rule, all designed to improve competition, maintain a competitive balance by leveling the playing field and reduce costs.
Previous NASCAR NEXTEL Cup tests this season took place at Daytona International Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. Other tests scheduled: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 10-12) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 16-18).
Raybestos Rookie Update ... Through the season's first eight races, Clint Bowyer has taken over the top spot in the rookie standings with 85 points, thanks to his career-best fifth-place run at Phoenix. Bowyer is followed by Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Federal Express Chevrolet) with 77 points; Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) with 74 points; J.J. Yeley (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) with 70 points; Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target Dodge) with 66 points; David Stremme (No. 40 Coors Light/Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon Dodge) with 55 points and Brent Sherman (No. 49 Serta Dodge) with 38 points.
Bowyer (12th), Truex Jr. (15th) and Hamlin (18th) all rank among the top 20 in the current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver standings.
Pit Crew Spotlight: No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet ... Two crew members of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet team will have a homecoming of sorts this weekend. Ronny Crooks (fuel mileage/shock specialist) and Todd Foster (rear tire changer/mechanic) are both from Hueytown, Ala., a town well-known in NASCAR racing circles as being the racing headquarters for the legendary "Alabama Gang." In the early 1960s, a young auto racer by the name of Bobby Allison left Miami, Fla., looking for an area that would provide him more opportunities to race. He discovered central Alabama in his travels. The region was dotted with small dirt tracks and Allison won big his first few times out. He returned to Florida to get his brother, Donnie, along with their friend, Red Farmer, and the trio set up shop in Hueytown, Ala. They were dominant racers during the 1960s and early '70s. Bobby's son, Davey, started racing in the late 1970s and fellow Hueytown resident Neil Bonnett also excelled on NASCAR's top circuit.
Where in the World is Ken Schrader? ... If it has gas, four tires and faces a green flag, Ken Schrader will hop in the cockpit and drive it. The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' oldest -- and some say funniest -- competitor just can't resist racing. Schrader will run his own dirt track cars at a small track across the road from the Talladega Superspeedway on Friday and Saturday and also compete in the NASCAR Busch Series Aaron's 312 Saturday afternoon at Talladega and the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Aaron's 499 Sunday afternoon at the superspeedway.
First Stop: Friday, Schrader will go dirt track racing across from the Talladega Superspeedway.
Second Stop: Same as the first stop, along with competing in the Aaron's 312 NASCAR Busch Series race at 3 p.m. at Talladega, driving Brewco Motorsports' No. 66 Yardman Ford.
Third Stop: Sunday's main event is the Aaron's 499 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Talladega (2:10 p.m. ET), where he will drive the Wood Brothers Racing's No. 21 Little Debbie Ford.
On Deck: Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway ... Race No. 10 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule will be Saturday, May 6 (7 p.m. ET, FOX) -- the Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Kasey Kahne is defending champion and also won the pole.
Next race: Aaron's 499 (Race No. 9 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season)
The track: Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, Ala.
The date/time: Sunday, April 30, 2:10 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite
Posted awards: $5,901,372
Race length: 500 miles, 188 laps
Track layout: 2.66 miles
2005 winner: Jeff Gordon
2005 polesitter: Kevin Harvick
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10: 1. Matt Kenseth 1,218. 2. Jimmie Johnson 1,209. 3. Kasey Kahne 1,167. 4. Mark Martin 1,152. 5. Tony Stewart 1,141. 6. Jeff Gordon 1,045. 7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1,045. 8. Kevin Harvick 1,044. 9. Kyle Busch 1,010. 10. Casey Mears 948.
Practice/Qualifying Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 1:30 -2:30 p.m., Final Practice, 3:05 -- 3:55 p.m. Saturday -- Qualifying, 10:40 a.m.