* Back on track: Dale Earnhardt Inc., drivers, teams moving up the standings * Just ahead: NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge a month away * History lesson: Talladega Superspeedway's legacy of exciting racing NEWS AND NOTES Gathering...
* Back on track: Dale Earnhardt Inc., drivers, teams moving up the standings
* Just ahead: NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge a month away
* History lesson: Talladega Superspeedway's legacy of exciting racing
NEWS AND NOTES
Gathering Steam: DEI on The Rise ... After slow starts and spates of tough luck, the Dale Earnhardt Inc. duo of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet) appear to be rebounding just in time for one of their favorite tracks -- Talladega Superspeedway. The two excel at restrictor-plate competition, but the off-season switch of crews, crew chiefs and even equipment has meant an adjustment period. Earnhardt Jr., who has five career wins at Talladega, has jumped from 26th to 12th in the point standings over the past four weeks, a stretch that includes top-five finishes at Bristol and Phoenix, a top-10 finish at Texas and a 13th-place finish at Martinsville.
Waltrip, with one career win at Talladega, has mirrored Earnhardt Jr.'s recent improvement. Mired at 30th in the standings three weeks ago, he ranks 18th heading to Talladega thanks to a sixth-place finish at Texas and last week's runner-up effort at Phoenix.
"It's kind of difficult to be a driver and a fan at the same time, but I was pulling hard for him," Earnhardt Jr. said of Waltrip's second-place finish. "We're happy with the improvements we've had lately, but it's still early, and there's a lot we've got to get better at."
Mark Your Calendars: NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge ... The 21st annual all-star event is less than a month away, and defending champion Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford) leads the list of current qualifiers. He's followed by 2004 race winners Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard/Charter Ford), Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford), Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford), Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge), Joe Nemechek (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet), Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge), Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford), Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet) and Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge); 2005 race winners Carl Edwards (No. 99 Scotts/Ortho Ford) and Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet); past event champions Terry Labonte (1999) and Michael Waltrip (1996); and past series champions Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett.
Here's a quick reminder of format and eligibility requirements:
• The 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge showcases race winners from the previous and current seasons, plus past event champions and series champions from the past 10 years (1995-2005) who are active drivers and have competed in at least one series event during the 2004 or 2005 season. Also eligible:
• The winner of the NEXTEL Open, a preliminary event for teams not qualified for the all-star event, and another NEXTEL Open driver who wins a fan vote into the all-star event.
• To qualify for the NEXTEL Open event, drivers must be in the Top 50 of the final 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings, or in the Top 50 of the current point standings as of March 14, 2005.
• The all-star evening begins with the 30-lap NEXTEL Open. The winner, plus the winner of the fan vote, will transfer to the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge -- a 90-lap/135-mile event divided into 40-, 30- and 20-lap segments.
• No driver will be eliminated after the first two segments. But during the 10-minute pit stop between the first and second segments, a random drawing will determine whether as few as six or as many as 12 cars will be inverted.
Nextel Wake Up Call ... This week's guest is Joe Nemechek. He'll visit with media at the Talladega Superspeedway infield media center beginning at 8:30 a.m. Friday.
All Knotted Up: Chevrolet, Ford Tied Atop Series Manufacturers Standings ... After eight races in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season, Chevrolet and Ford are tied for the lead in the series' Manufacturers Championship standings, with Dodge running third. Kurt Busch's victory last Saturday at Phoenix allowed Ford to pull even with Chevrolet in both wins (four) and points (58). ... Chevrolet has won the Manufacturers Championship 28 times while Ford has won 15 times; the other 10 years the championship has been awarded, it has been won by Hudson (3), Dodge (2), Buick (2), Oldsmobile (1), Pontiac (1) and Plymouth (1). ... Points are earned thusly: Nine points to the highest-finishing car type; six points to the second-highest finishing type; four points for the third-highest finishing type. ... Chevrolet has won the championship the last two years. ... Jimmie Johnson is currently the leading Chevrolet driver, as the series point leader. Busch, second in points, is the top Ford driver. Ryan Newman is the leading Dodge driver, standing seventh in the points.
Owner Points Update: Top 35 Heading to Talladega ... Beginning in 2005, teams outside the top 35 must qualify on speed for each week's 43 starting spots. The top 35 designation guarantees a spot in the field for those teams; beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 and running through the Food City 500 on April 3, the top 35 in 2004 owner championship points was the yardstick. Beginning with the Advance Auto Parts 500 on April 10 -- the season's sixth race -- the current top 35 teams in owner championship points became the yardstick.
From the Archives: Talladega Home to Speed, NASCAR Records ... Talladega Superspeedway is noted for close competition, never more apparent than on May 6, 1984, when the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series set an all-time NASCAR record of 75 lead changes. Thirteen different drivers swapped the lead that day, but Cale Yarborough, who won the pole with a speed of 202.692 mph, didn't even lead the first lap. Bill Elliott, who started second, pumped to the front on Lap 1, the only time he led all day. Yarborough took the lead on Lap 2 and led three laps. Dale Earnhardt led Lap 5. Benny Parsons took over on Lap 6 for three laps, and the trend was set: Cars took the lead for only a few laps at a time, with Harry Gant enjoying the most time out front; he led 13 consecutive laps from Lap 175 to Lap 187.
Drivers led for a single lap on 32 occasions. Those included Rusty Wallace, David Pearson, Elliott and Phil Parsons. Drivers who led multiple laps were Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Terry Labonte, Ron Bouchard, Earnhardt, Gant and Yarborough. Benny Parsons led an event-high 56 laps. The race contained four cautions for 17 laps. Geoffrey Bodine, driving for the newly-formed Hendrick Motorsports, slapped the wall after cutting down a tire on Lap 61 for the race's only accident.
A crowd of over 115,000 watched Yarborough overtake Gant on the final lap to win by two car lengths -- Yarborough's 80th career win. During his Victory Lane interview Yarborough said, "I wasn't sure just where to try to pass Harry. I saw some traffic up ahead, so I figured I'd try to pass him on the backstretch."
On the Right Track
• Current point leader Jimmie Johnson has five top-10 starts in six races at Talladega; Dale Jarrett has three consecutive top-10 starts.
• Chevrolet leads all manufacturers with 12 wins in the Talladega spring event.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finished first or second in his last seven Talladega races.
• Kevin Harvick has four consecutive top-10 finishes at Talladega. Robby Gordon has two consecutive top-10 finishes.
• Jeff Gordon has led 501 laps at Talladega, the most of any active driver.
• Dale Earnhardt Inc. cars have won six of the last seven Talladega races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ranks second on the track's all-time win list with five victories. His father, Dale Earnhardt, leads with 10 Talladega wins.
• Richard Childress Racing leads all teams with nine Talladega victories.
On Deck: Darlington Raceway ... Race No. 10 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule will be Saturday, May 7 -- the Dodge Charger 500 at Darlington Raceway. Darlington, a 1.366-mile oval, has been part of the schedule since 1950 when the race winner was Johnny Mantz. ... Jimmie Johnson is defending champion; Kasey Kahne (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford) was last year's polesitter.
The race: Aaron's 499. (Race No. 9 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
The track: Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, Ala. (2.66-mile banked tri-oval.)
The date/time: Sunday, May 1, 1:20 p.m. (ET).
TV: FOX, 12:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.
Posted awards: $5,814,065.
Race length: 188 laps, 500 miles.
Track layout: 2.66-mile tri-oval.
2004 winner: Jeff Gordon
2004 polesitter: Ricky Rudd.
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 1,260. 2. Kurt Busch 1,087. 3. Greg Biffle 1,052. 4. Jeff Gordon 1,027. 5. Elliott Sadler 1,009. 6. Mark Martin 997. 7. Ryan Newman 994. 8. Carl Edwards 979. 9. Sterling Marlin 968. 10. Rusty Wallace 960.