Parity Rules Since Earnhardt-Gordon ’Dega DominationOnly one active driver – Jeff Gordon – has a better record at Talladega Superspeedway than Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt counts five wins at the 2.66-mile track, one fewer than his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, including four straight trips to Victory Lane between 2001 and 2003. He swept both spring and fall events in 2002.
So each should be prohibitive favorites to win Sunday’s Aaron’s 499, right? Maybe or maybe not.
Earnhardt’s last Talladega win came in the fall of 2004. Gordon is winless since sweeping both races in 2007.
In fact, Gordon’s last win ignited an 11-race streak during which only two competitors – Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski – have more than one victory.
One might say, however, that parity allowed the cream to rise to the top. Recent winners include NASCAR Sprint Cup champions Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart.
Earnhardt broke a four-year-old winless streak last season. Talladega offers the opportunity to add a 20th victory to his resume and solidify his standing – fourth – in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.
Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Junior has finished among the top five twice with a second-place performance in the 2009 Aaron’s 499.
During the 16 races in which Loop Data statistics have been kept, Earnhardt ranks second with a Driver Rating of 89.6. His average finish is a modest 15.0, but by comparison with his top 12 rivals, second only to Keselowski’s 12.3.
Fact: Talladega gives and it also takes away.
Earnhardt finished second to HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson in the Daytona 500 and liked the feel of his new Gen-6 No. 88 Chevrolet SS.
Gordon, meanwhile, ranks 10th in Talladega Driver Rating (83.1) with an average finish of 16.4. He finished second in last fall’s Talladega Chase race. Fourteenth in current standings, 36 points out of the top 10, Gordon could make a major move this week.
Consistency, Past Performance Makes RCR Triple ThreatKevin Harvick’s Richmond victory should have surprised no one. Harvick was overdue; so was Richard Childress Racing, which scored a pair of top-five finishes after going 0-for-24 in 2013. Since being crashed out of the Daytona 500 – after winning the Sprint Unlimited – Harvick has completed every lap with an average finish of 11.0.
RCR teammate Paul Menard, with a trio of top-10 finishes, has completed each of the season’s 2,990 laps with three top-10 finishes and is off to his best NASCAR Sprint Cup start. Harvick and Menard rank ninth and 10th in the standings, each scoring 271 points.
Jeff Burton raced his way into the lead at Richmond ultimately finishing fifth, his first top five of 2013.
Each merits a good look this week at Talladega Superspeedway. Harvick won the Aaron’s 499 in 2010. Menard finished second in the track’s 2008 fall race driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Burton, bidding to break a 158-race winless streak, owns Talladega’s top Driver Rating of 91.4. He’s the track leader in Green Flag Passes and Most Quality Passes. Burton finished second in the 2011 fall race and was 10th in both Talladega starts a year ago. Richard Childress’ drivers have won an even dozen times on NASCAR’s longest oval track, most by an owner.
Roush Looks To Build On ’Dega Success With ‘Plate King’ GoneMatt Kenseth took his restrictor-plate talents to Joe Gibbs Racing, leaving Roush Fenway Racing hoping its remaining drivers picked up a thing or two from their departed teammate.
It’ll be a tough act to follow, to say the least. Last season, Kenseth racked up a stunning average finish of 2.0 and a Driver Rating of 121.1 in the four restrictor plate races (two each at Daytona and Talladega). He won twice, the Daytona 500 and the fall Talladega event, and finished third in the other two.
Now what? It’s not all bad news. Though overshadowed by his winning teammate, Greg Biffle turned in a likewise outstanding restrictor plate performance last season, with two top fives and three top 10s. He also finished sixth in this year’s Daytona 500.
Carl Edwards’ relationship with Talladega has been a rocky one. At Daytona, he’s strong – he has two runner-up finishes to his credit. At Talladega, a sixth-place finish in 2011 is sandwiched between a number of runs outside the top 20. In all, Edwards has four top-10 finishes … and six outside the top 30.
Sunday will mark Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first Sprint Cup race at Talladega, following three NNS starts. His best finish came last year, a third in May.
Hall Right: Talladega’s Old-School Racing Has NASCAR Hall Of Fame FlareHistory envelopes Talladega Superspeedway, a track with an inaugural race in 1969 and a wins list peppered with some of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport. Of the first 87 races run at Talladega, 26 have been won by NASCAR Hall of Famers (including a record 10 by Dale Earnhardt). Of those 25 nominees up for induction into the fifth class, which will be announced on May 22, only Dale Jarrett has a driver win at Talladega – he won twice, including his 32nd and final – win of his career (Oct 2, 2005, UAW–Ford 500).
The first three poles at Talladega were won by Bobby Isaac, including the inaugural race in 1969. Isaac won 19 poles that season, setting a NASCAR single-season record that still stands. Only two owners boast double-digit victories at Talladega – and both are among the list of 25 nominees. Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick rank 1-2 in Talladega wins, with 12 and 11 respectively.
Red Byron (Anniston) and Tim Flock (Fort Payne) each hail from Alabama, a state with a rich NASCAR history. Nominee Fireball Roberts won the first race at Birmingham International Raceway in 1958; Flock won the first race at Lakeview Speedway in Mobile in 1951, and swept the first two races at Montgomery Motor Speedway in 1955, his second championship season.
The overall NASCAR Hall of Fame vote once again includes a nationwide Fan Vote, which is currently open and will run through May 21 on NASCAR.com: http://nas.cr/g7MY.