Aero package unchanged for Talladega; DEI seeks to continue dominance. * Charting the NASCAR Top 10 ... After seven weeks of the season, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford) heads the NASCAR Top 10 for the fourth consecutive week, 155...
Aero package unchanged for Talladega; DEI seeks to continue dominance.
* Charting the NASCAR Top 10 ... After seven weeks of the season, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford) heads the NASCAR Top 10 for the fourth consecutive week, 155 points ahead of second-place Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford). ... Kenseth has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for the sixth consecutive week. ... Fourth-place Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), fifth-place Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and seventh-place Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet) are the only drivers who have been in the NASCAR Top 10 for all seven weeks of the season. ... New arrivals this week in the NASCAR Top 10 are eighth-place Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge), the winner at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday, and 10th-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet).
* From the director's chair ... The aerodynamic rules package that was used for the Daytona 500 remains in place for Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, the season's second restrictor-plate race. Those rules (for 2003 model cars): rear spoilers must by 6¼ inches tall and 57 inches wide; rear spoiler angles must be minimum of 55 degrees and maximum of 65 degrees; restrictor plate openings must be 7/8 inch. There is one slight modification: rear spoilers must have a minimum thickness of 3/16 inch. Also, the approximate 13.5-gallon fuel cell will again be used. Series Director John Darby said there are no reasons to alter the aero rules for this week's race. "Obviously, because of the inclement weather that shortened the Daytona 500 we didn't have a full opportunity to [assess that race]," Darby said. "But with the combination of the Budweiser Shootout and the Gatorade 125s we came away from Daytona confident enough in the rules to go to Talladega with no changes."
* Dale Jr./DEI combo tough to beat ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) is almost a prohibitive favorite coming into Sunday's event. After all, he has won the last three Talladega races. Throw in the 2001 and 2003 Daytona 500 victories by Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), and the pattern is clear: Dale Earnhardt Incorporated cars have won five of the last six restrictor-plate races in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. ... "Our record [at Talladega] speaks for itself," said Earnhardt, who also will run the Dale Earnhardt Tribute Concert car in the NASCAR Busch Series race on Saturday. "It's always a fun place to race because you can run wide open. That was some advice my father gave me when I tested there before I started racing. He said, 'Don't let off in the corner or you'll crash.' "
* McDonald's/POWERade Drive-Thru Pit Championship update ... The No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet pit crew won last Sunday's pit competition, with a cumulative time of 202 seconds in the pits during the Samsung/RadioShack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet team leads the competition's overall standings with 254 points. The No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet team is second with 244, while the No. 31 crew is third with 237. Weekly winners collect $20,000. The year-end winners get $200,000.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Earnhardt aside, there are others who are comfortable at Talladega. Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), for example, has finished fourth or better in three of his four races at the track. ... Terry Labonte (No. 5 Kellogg's/got milk? Chevrolet) leads active drivers with 13 top-five Talladega finishes and 22 top 10s. ... Bill Elliott (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) leads all drivers with eight Bud Poles in 52 races at Talladega. ... Elliott has two victories, 10 top-five finishes and also has 22 top-10 finishes to share that active-driver category lead with Labonte. ... Jeff Burton (No. 99 CITGO Ford) has posted four consecutive finishes of 11th or better at Talladega. ... Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) has four top-10 finishes in his last six Talladega events.
* "You have to have a lot of patience but more than anything else, you have to have yourself in position toward the end of the race. You can race for 470 miles and it doesn't really make any difference. It's those last 30 miles; that's when you have to get yourself in the right position if you want to be in contention for the win." -- Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford) on racing at Talladega.
* "It's still pretty much business as usual. You still hold it wide open." -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet), comparing racing at Talladega to racing at Daytona International Speedway.
* "Talladega is a lot wider. There's no handling involved, it's just pretty much pedal to the medal and go." -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet), also comparing Talladega to Daytona.
* "That was one of the hardest hits I have taken in a long time and I'm all right so it shows a lot about the safety of these cars." -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford) on his accident last Sunday at Texas.
* "Talladega is one of those places [where] you can expect the unexpected." -- Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Havoline Dodge).
* "The smaller fuel cell is working. You have to pit more, which makes it more of a team effort, but I think that's a good thing." -- Joe Nemechek (No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet) on the implementation of approximate 13.5-gallon fuel cells at Daytona and Talladega, and the desired effect of separating the field during long runs.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Bobby Hillin Jr. won one NASCAR Winston Cup race in his career -- the Talladega 500 on July 27, 1986. That victory is memorable for another reason; Hillin's age at the time. He was 22 years, one month and 22 days old. He remains the youngest NASCAR Winston Cup winner at Talladega.
Aaron's 499 (Race 8 of 36 in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series).
Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Race: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday, April 6.
TV: FOX (Noon ET start).
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday -- Practice, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:05 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 9:30-10:15 a.m. and 11:10-11:55 a.m.