Talladega: Round nine preview

* Gordon Chasing Seventh Talladega Win; Return To Top 12 * Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seeking Breakthrough Win * In The Loop: Statistics Favor Some Talladega Surprises * Wheel Man: Kyle Busch Making His NASCAR Mark Prime Opportunity: Gordon Facing ...

* Gordon Chasing Seventh Talladega Win; Return To Top 12
* Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seeking Breakthrough Win
* In The Loop: Statistics Favor Some Talladega Surprises
* Wheel Man: Kyle Busch Making His NASCAR Mark

Prime Opportunity: Gordon Facing Talladega Crossroads

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 22, 2008) -- A year ago, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont-Pepsi Chevrolet) arrived for the spring event at 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings -- and promptly won his second consecutive race.

As the series anticipates Sunday's Aaron's 499, Gordon sits 13th, eight points out of 12th, the cut-off spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Last year's series runner-up, he's juggled uncharacteristic inconsistency in 2008, but Talladega could mark a turning point.

Gordon leads all active drivers with six victories there. He's also NASCAR's all-time leader with 12 wins at restrictor-plate tracks (Talladega and 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway). And, he's Sunday's defending champion, having won from the pole last April and sweeping both Talladega events in 2007.

Gordon's statistical tank certainly is full: He ranks first in pre-race Driver Rating for Talladega (98.5) and fourth in Laps in the Top 15, having run 63.6% of his laps in the top 15. His Average Running Position of 14.3 is the series' sixth-best. Finally, the top-ranked driver in pre-race Driver Rating has finished in the top 10 in six of eight races in 2008.

His Track: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seeks Landmark Victory

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet) may live in another state, but given his Alabama success, Talladega could be considered his competitive "home".

In his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt returns as a strong favorite for Sunday's Aaron's 499. He trails only teammate Jeff Gordon in Talladega victories by active drivers (five), his highest win total at any track on the series schedule.

Legacy is a factor: His father, seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt, won 10 times at Talladega, more than any other driver.

But a sixth Talladega victory by the younger Earnhardt would do more than bolster career numbers. Currently third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, he'd climb higher; he's six points behind second --place Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) and 80 points behind leader Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet).

The last time Earnhardt was second in the standings was after the 31st race of 2004. The last time he led the standings was following the 27th race in 2004.

Sunday's event also marks Earnhardt's 300th career NASCAR Sprint Cup start.

In The Loop: Talladega A House Of Champions, Wild Cards

The statistics suggest a number of variables when analyzing a race at Talladega.

First, Talladega is the house of champions. Seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships have been won among the top-three drivers in pre-race Driver Rating.

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon leads the pack with a 98.5 Driver Rating, followed by 2004 series champion Kurt Busch (95.0) and two-time champ Tony Stewart (93.1).

Additionally, two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson ranks sixth in Driver Rating with an 89.8 and 2003 champion Matt Kenseth is eighth with an 88.9.

But there's another angle that could possibly play out. And that's the wild-card angle.

Among the top 10 in pre-race Driver Rating are three drivers who have yet to win a championship, and have earned a berth in only one Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup among them.

They are Jamie McMurray, Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler.

Of the three, only Vickers has a Talladega win. But McMurray does have restrictor-plate success, winning at Daytona last July.

At Talladega, McMurray has a Driver Rating of 92.6 (fourth-best), an Average Running Position of 14.8 (seventh) and has run 63.9% of the Laps in the Top 15 (fourth).

Vickers nabbed his only win at Talladega in 2006, and finished in the top 10 in a total of three races at the famed track. He has a Driver Rating of 91.5 (fourth), an Average Running Position of 14.0 (fourth), and has run 67.2% of the Laps in the Top 15.

Sadler scored a sixth-place finish at Talladega in 2005, and finished in the top 20 in each of the last two spring races there. He has a Driver Rating of 81.4 (10th), an Average Running Position of 17.3 (11th), and has run 55.3% of the laps inside the top 15 (eighth).

Draft Day: In Racing, All Decisions Count At Talladega

The word "draft" presents a double entendre this week as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series prepares for Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega.

The 2008 NFL Draft also looms on Saturday, and "draft", which means different things in each sport, also creates some symmetry.

For example:

You'll pay for a poor draft. In football, that means depleting rosters and payrolls. In NASCAR, drafting -- the aerodynamic variables created by race cars running side-by-side -- is a crucial part of strategy at Talladega and Daytona International Speedway, the two tracks where engines are outfitted with restrictor plates.

It's important for a driver to stay with a drafting pack. Cars help pull each other through the air, and ill-timed moves mean going backward instead of forward;

Make the best possible choices. NFL prospects are scouted relentlessly, as are race-track moves. Experience is the best teacher in both sports. On the track, drivers choose drafting partners by reacting to their competition, just as their competition reacts to their choices;

Good draft choices are more important late, rather than early. It's the opposite in the NFL, where first-rounders are key. But in NASCAR, last-laps draft choices can lead to Victory Lane;

Mock drafts. They come by the thousands in NFL circles. In NASCAR, it's pre-race practices, where drivers compile their own scouting reports, sizing up possible drafting partners for Sunday.

Three Series, One Winner: Kyle Busch On A Victory Tear

Seemingly everywhere, and nearly always up front, Kyle Busch appears poised for a dream season.

Heading into Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, the fourth-year driver is at, or near, the top of all three NASCAR national series standings.

He's second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, 80 points behind leader Jeff Burton. He's also third in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, 60 points out of first, and he leads the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings by 35 points over second place.

Here's why: Busch has more wins than anyone else in all three national series, to date.

That's one NASCAR Sprint Cup win (at Atlanta Motor Speedway), three consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series wins (including last Sunday at Mexico City) and two in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Accumulating wins means accumulating starts, and Busch is doing that this season.

Although his stated focus is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch plans to run a number of events in the other two national series, as schedules allow.

He's competing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for both JGR and Braun Racing. He competes for Billy Ballew Motorsports in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

And he'll forfeit the standings lead in the latter this weekend, as both the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series are in action Saturday, three hours apart -- in different states.

While Busch will compete in Sunday's Aaron's 499 and Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series event, Shane Sieg will take his seat in Saturday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at Kansas Speedway.

Bow-Tied: Chevrolet Clearly Dominant At Talladega

Chevrolet's bow-tie logo has been a recent constant in Talladega's Victory Lane, a success rate only magnified by statistics.

Chevrolet drivers have won the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Talladega -- and 16 of the last 17 series events there.

It's a dominance that extends to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where Chevrolet drivers have won the last five Talladega events.

Part of the manufacturer's success is tied to two drivers -- Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon -- who have won 10 of those 17 races (five each).

Earnhardt won his all back-to-back, from the fall event of 2001 through the spring event of 2003.

But while Chevrolet is the overwhelming manufacturer favorite heading to Talladega, its competitors rank close behind in seasonal stats.

This year 's mix of winners and close competition shows up in another statistical category -- the 2008 manufacturers' standings.

Chevrolet holds a narrow four-point lead over second-place Ford, which leads third-place Toyota by three points. Dodge, 14 points behind Toyota, is a couple of wins away from unseating one or more competitors.

Through eight events, Ford leads with Carl Edwards' (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) three wins. Both Toyota and Chevrolet have two wins each, while Dodge has one.

Back On Track: AJ Allmendinger, Jon Wood Return To NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Talladega, so does AJ Allmendinger to his seat.

The second-year driver ends a four-week hiatus during which veteran driver and current NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standout Mike Skinner took over the No. 84 Team Red Bull Toyota. A learning period designed to aid both Allendinger and his young team, Skinner's tenure revealed some telling observations.

"After seeing Mike drive the No. 84 car and seeing him struggle with some of the same problems I had been having, it was a little bit of relief for me to realize that while I had plenty of room to improve as a driver, we also have a long way to go as a team," said Allmendinger, who remained at the track each week and in contact with Skinner. "Collectively, we still need to get better. I think part of us getting better as a team is about taking small steps towards improvement, and I think we were able to do that with Mike's help."

After a tough rookie season in 2007, Allmendinger and his team struggled early in 2008, prompting the month out of the car.

A former open-wheel standout, he knows he's still learning stock-car nuances, but feels more ready than ever to resume the challenge.

"While I can't lie and say it was easy being out of my car and watching someone else drive it," Allmendinger said, "I can say that Mike tried to make the experience a positive thing for me by making me feel like I was still a part of the team and still a part of the learning process in fixing our program."

... Jon Wood, son of Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie Wood and grandson of team founder Leonard Wood, will attempt to qualify the No. 21 Little Debbie Ford at Talladega. If he makes the field, it will be his second series start.

The younger Wood also is driving the team's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series entry this Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

The Top 35: Four Teams Chasing DEI And Regan Smith

As NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams prepare for Sunday's Aaron's 499, the top 35 in the owner standings remains a significant factor.

Each week, those teams are guaranteed starting spots, and weekend performances are especially crucial for those on the top-35 "bubble".

Heading to Talladega, the No. 01 Dale Earnhardt Inc./Principal Chevrolet owned by Teresa Earnhardt and driven by Regan Smith is 35th for the third consecutive week.

Only 40 points separate the four teams trailing in 36th through 39th.

The No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota owned by Jeffrey Moorad driven by J.J. Yeley is 36th, a drop of three spots. Yeley trails Smith by three points in the owner standings.

The No. 44 UPS Toyota driven by David Reutimann and owned by Michael Waltrip is 34th, a gain of four spots. Reutimann finished 18th at Phoenix, returning his team for the top 35 for the first time in three weeks.

Behind Yeley, the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota owned by Bill Davis and driven by Dave Blaney is 37th, only five points behind Yeley and eight points out of 35th.

The No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet owned by Margaret Haas will be driven by veteran Ken Schrader at Talladega. It's 38th, only four points behind Blaney and 12 points out of 35th.

The No. 40 Dodge owned by Felix Sabates and driven by Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Dario Franchitti is 39th, 40 points out.

Although 41st and 165 points behind 35th, fellow rookie Patrick Carpentier and the No. 10 LifeLock Dodge owned by George Gillett Jr., continue their climb. Carpentier fell to 48th after the year's second event at Auto Club Speedway, but has gained seven spots in the last six weeks.

NSCS Etc.

NASCAR Day: The NASCAR Foundation's fifth annual NASCAR Day will be celebrated on Friday, May 16. Highlighted by a special Five Years of Caring theme, the event combines fundraising efforts of NASCAR fans, partners and companies worldwide. In 2007, NASCAR Day raised more than $1.6 million. The event has raised nearly $5 million since its 2004 inception.

Fans support NASCAR Day by making a $5 donation. In return, they receive a 2008 lapel pin. This weekend, all pin donations collected at Talladega Superspeedway will be split between the NASCAR Foundation, the American Red Cross of Alabama and Central Gulf Coast Region.

Fans should log on to www.nascar.com/nascarday to make their $5 donation.

International Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction: The International Motorsports Hall of Fame, whose facility adjoins Talladega Superspeedway, will induct its 2008 honorees during a black-tie ceremony on Thursday, April 24.

This year's class includes Art Arfons, Robert "Red" Byron, Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, Frank Kurtis, Everett "Cotton" Owens and Ralph Seagraves.

Arfons, best known for setting the Land Speed Record three times, will be inducted posthumously, as will Byron, a NASCAR driving pioneer and Anniston, Ala., native. Seagraves, a well-known motorsports marketing executive, and Kurtis, a chassis manufacturing pioneer, also are posthumous inductees.

Jenkins is a renowned National Hot Rod Association driver and engine builder. Owens, known as "King of the Modifieds," has 41 wins and 37 poles in 487 starts in NASCAR competition.

Office Depot To "Connect With Carl": This weekend at Talladega marks the launch of Office Depot's fourth annual "Official Small Business of NASCAR" promotion with Carl Edwards.

Companies with 99 or less employees are eligible to enter for the chance to have their business' name and logo featured on Edwards' car. They'll also receive a $10,000 small business makeover. Entries will be accepted beginning this Sunday. Companies should log on to www.officedepotracing.com to enter.

Up Next: Crown Royal Presents The Dan Lowry 400 at Richmond International Raceway

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' next stop is the Crown Royal Presents The Dan Lowry 400 on Saturday, May 3 at Richmond International Raceway. It's the 10th race on the 2008 schedule.

Reigning and defending two-time series champion Jimmie Johnson won both Richmond events in 2007. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon is the defending pole winner for the May event.

Another teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and another two-time series champion, Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), lead all active drivers with three wins each at Richmond.

***

The Race: Aaron's 499

The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Sunday, April 27

The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio

The Track: 2.66-mile tri-oval
The Distance: 500 miles/188 laps

2007 Winner: Jeff Gordon
2007 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon

Pre-Race Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 1:30-2:30 p.m.; Final Practice, 3:05-3:55 p.m.; Saturday -- Qualifying, 10:15 a.m.

-credit: nascar

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Mike Skinner , Ken Schrader , Kurt Busch , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Jimmie Johnson , Jon Wood , Jamie McMurray , J.J. Yeley , David Reutimann , Brian Vickers , Carl Edwards , Regan Smith , Shane Sieg , Elliott Sadler , Dave Blaney , Felix Sabates , Kyle Busch
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Wood Brothers Racing