Talladega: News of note, schedule

NNCS, Etc. * Vickers Returns to Scene Of Controversial First Win * Haas CNC Coming Off Milestone Race * Montoya Returns to Site of Stock Car Debut * Harvick a 'Sleeper" at Aaron's 499? Brian Vickers' (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) first win last ...

NNCS, Etc.

* Vickers Returns to Scene Of Controversial First Win
* Haas CNC Coming Off Milestone Race
* Montoya Returns to Site of Stock Car Debut
* Harvick a 'Sleeper" at Aaron's 499?

Brian Vickers' (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) first win last October was huge for reasons beyond the obvious career milestone element. It came at one of NASCAR's most historic tracks, Talladega Superspeedway. And it came at the expense of two of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' biggest names -- eventual series champion Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet).

On the last lap at the 2.66-mile tri-oval, a Vickers mistake caused the three-car accident that ruined the day for Johnson and Earnhardt -- and for Vickers, too, in some ways. His first win in NASCAR's premier series was overshadowed by wrecking two drivers involved in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. ...

Haas CNC Racing is coming off a historic week for the organization. At Phoenix, Jeff Green (No. 66 Best Buy Chevrolet) and Johnny Sauter (No. 70 Yellow Transportation Chevrolet) finished sixth and ninth, respectively -- the first time Haas CNC has ever had two top-10 finishes in the same event.

"Having both cars in the top 10 is a great momentum boost for us," Green said. "We've got equipment equal to anybody in the garage with Hendrick motors and chassis, and our guys work their tails off, so it feels good to give our teams the finishes they deserve.

"Hendrick Motorsports has really helped us with [engines for] the Car of Tomorrow, so we have to thank them for everything they do. It wouldn't hurt my feelings if NASCAR made every race a COT race." ...

Former Indianapolis 500 champion and Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) is returning this week to the track where he made his stock car debut. Last October at Talladega, Montoya climbed into an ARCA RE/MAX Series car, qualified second and finished third. Amid his first full-time season in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, Montoya comes in this week 16th in points, clearly in contention to make the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

"I think it's going to be fun to go back there, being my first proper stock car race was there," Montoya said. "It should be pretty cool, should be a little different.

"I was surprised at the [33 degree] banking. For an open-wheel guy, 22 degrees or 23 degrees like California or Michigan is like really high banking. [Talladega] is like 'Wow' and now ... 20-degree banking is not much." ... Tony Stewart isn't the only driver who has come close at Talladega recently without winning. In an eight-race span from 2003-06 Kevin Harvick had six top-10 finishes, including two runner-up efforts.

Talladega: Size Up Your Rivals, Focus On The Finish

Sunday's Aaron's 499 will be the last race at Talladega Superspeedway not using the Car of Tomorrow. The "COT" roll-out schedule has the new car coming to Talladega's second race this year on Oct. 7.

Here are some keys to negotiating the 2.66-mile track -- the largest in NASCAR -- that apply no matter what configuration of car is out there.

* Know how to maneuver your car successfully through traffic. Positioning yourself for a strong finish is a key.

* A flawless final pit stop is critical. It's next to impossible to make up a lot of ground if you have a poor pit stop down the stretch.

* Gather as much information as you can about your competition as the race unfolds.

* Know the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and be able to draw upon that history during the course of the race.

* Find out who you can race with as the afternoon unfolds. It's very difficult to win there without getting some drafting assistance from others. It's important that the driver gather as much information about his competition during the race and be able to rely on that towards the finish. Knowing who you can draft with and who to avoid is ultra-important.

Locked In: Hendrick's No. 25 Chevrolet is No. 35 In Points This Week; Jarrett Feeling Pressure

Casey Mears (No. 25 National Guard/ GMAC Chevrolet) occupies the "bubble" spot this week, holding the 35th and final "locked-in" starting spot for the Aaron's 499.

Weekly in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, the top 35 teams in car owner points are guaranteed starting spots for that week's event. Outside the top 35? That means you have to get into a race based solely on your qualifying speed.

By no means should Mears feel secure, however. Only 103 points separates his team from the 40th-place team of driver Paul Menard/owner Teresa Earnhardt (No. 15 Menard's Chevrolet).

And actually, the precarious nature of the locked-in bubble also is evidenced the other way; 46 points separate Mears from the 30th-place team of driver David Gilliland/owner Robert Yates (No. 38 M&Ms Ford).

And then there's the pressure being felt by Dale Jarrett (No. 44 UPS Toyota), whose team is 37th in points. Jarrett has already used five of his allotted six "past champion" provisionals. He needs a strong run Sunday to work his way into the top 35, to avoid having to qualify on time.

In The Loop: Something For Everyone At Talladega

In 15 of the last 16 trips to Talladega, a Chevrolet has visited Victory Lane. But over the last two years, drivers in Fords and Dodges have found success -- even though Chevys have won three out of four Talladega races.

In fact, in most cases their stats are better than those of Chevrolet.

Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) leads the charge in that regard. Kenseth, a Roush Fenway Racing Ford driver, owns the top pre-race Driver Rating at 105.8. Kenseth is one spot ahead of teammate Jamie McMurray's (No. 26 Sharp Vikuiti 3M Ford) 100.6.

They are the only two eclipsing the 100-point barrier.

The same holds true in Average Running Position. Kenseth has an Average Running Position of 7.968, making him the only driver who averages runs in the top 10 at Talladega. McMurray again falls into second place in the category with an Average Running Position of 10.298. Dodge driver Kurt Busch is third with a 10.486, and is also fourth in Driver Rating with a 96.6.

In arguably the two most telling statistics, Fords and a Dodge own six of the top-seven spots at Talladega. Next step, clearly, is a win.

They already have consistency, as their Laps in the Top 15 can attest. Again, Kenseth, McMurray and Busch are 1-2-3. Kenseth has 650 Laps in the Top 15 at Talladega, followed by McMurray (610) and Busch (603).

Busch also has good standing in the passes categories. His total of 1,587 is third-most of any driver at Talladega and his 1,264 Quality Passes -- passes of cars in the top 15 while under green -- is more than any other driver.

This doesn't mean Chevrolet drivers struggle at Talladega -- by no means is that the case.

Four-time Talladega winner Jeff Gordon has the third-best pre-race Driver Rating at 97.1 and has showed brilliance in the past. In his victory in the spring of 2005, Gordon earned a Driver Rating of 135.5, the best rating registered in the last four Talladega races. In that race, Gordon had a stunning 2.155 Average Running Position, also the best of any driver in a Talladega race over the last four races.

Then there's Tony Stewart, who has tremendous stats at 'Dega but zero wins. He has the fifth-best Driver Rating (96.3), the fifth-best Average Running Position (12.912) and the sixth-fastest Speed in Traffic.

Menard Top Rookie at Phoenix; Chevrolet Maintains Manufacturers Lead

In a tough night for rookies, Paul Menard finished 25th at Phoenix, earning him Raybestos Rookie of the Race honors for the first time this season. Menard retained his third-place position in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year points.

Also, Chevrolet's seventh victory of the year, via Jeff Gordon's first-ever win at Phoenix, boosted its lead in the Manufacturers Championship standings to 20 points over Ford.

Off-Track ...

Ward Burton (No. 4 State Water Heaters Chevrolet) of South Boston, Va., visited the Virginia Tech campus on Monday. Burton, his wife Tabitha and his 14-year-old son Jeb visited the university's alumni department, had lunch with the engineering department and viewed several sites memorializing victims of the April 16 shootings on the campus. The Burtons were accompanied by Tom Inge, the executive director of the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, and his wife Carole.

"My son wants to attend Virginia Tech," Burton said. "We wanted to go to the campus and show our support, with us being from Virginia and living in Virginia. Virginia Tech has such an influence everywhere in the state.

"It just seemed like the right thing to do." ...

This weekend at Talladega, all cars will again display the Virginia Tech logo on the "B post" adjacent to the driver's side window net, in remembrance of the shooting victims. The logos will also be displayed next week at Richmond International Raceway. ... Comedian Jeff Foxworthy is the Grand Marshal for Sunday's Aaron's 499. Country music star Joe Nichols is slated to sing the national anthem. ... The International Motorsports Hall of Fame, located at Talladega Superspeedway, will hold its 17th annual induction ceremony Thursday night. For the first time, a former NASCAR Busch Series champion will be inducted -- two-time titlist Jack Ingram. Other inductees: Speedway Motorsports Incorporated Chairman/CEO Bruton Smith; NASCAR great Ray Hendrick, who is being inducted posthumously; former NHRA Pro Stock champion Warren Johnson; former motorcycle great Wayne Rainey; and longtime NASCAR car owner Junie Donlavey. ... For media attending this weekend's races, Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) will be the "NEXTEL Wake-Up Call" interview guest Friday at 11:30 a.m. in the Talladega Superspeedway infield media center.

***

The Race: Aaron's 499

The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Sunday, April 29

The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. (ET)

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

The Purse: $6,022,630

2006 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2006 Pole: Elliott Sadler

Pre-Race On-Track Schedule (local/CT time): Friday -- Practice, 1:30-2:30 p.m. and 3:05-3:55 p.m. Saturday -- Qualifying, 10:15 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing