Five-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. could bag two birds with the same slingshot on Sunday – giving Hendrick Motorsports its long-awaited 200th victory and in the process snap a personal 138-race winless streak dating to June 2008.
HMS has won 11 times at Talladega, one fewer victory than Richard Childress Racing. RCR has won three of the last four Talladega races, Hendrick, though has gone into a win slump – since Jimmie Johnson scored the team's 199th Sprint Cup win at Kansas last October, the team has gone 15 races without a win.
Earnhardt, second in the standings five points behind Greg Biffle, last led the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings after his fifth and last win at Talladega in October 2004. He has four top-10 finishes in the last five spring races at 'Dega and a 13th-place finish in the fifth, two years ago.
After a runner-up finish at Richmond last weekend, he's getting closer – to both the points lead and his 19th career victory.
Jeff Gordon has the most wins – six – by an active competitor at Talladega. His last victory came in 2007, when he swept both spring and fall races. The four-time series champion is the all-time restrictor-plate king, with 12 combined victories at Daytona and Talladega. Defending Aaron's 499 winner Johnson also won in 2006.
THE PACK IS BACK
Traditional pack racing returned to Daytona International Speedway in February's Daytona 500, and look for more of the same in Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega, where the restrictor plate size is 29/32 inch, the same size as used at Daytona.
“I think that the pack-racing that we had at Daytona was amazing. I thought it was great racing,” said Denny Hamlin, a two-time winner in 2012 who has yet to win at Talladega. “The two-car tandem didn't win the race – that's a good thing. Really, they got us to where we were running a fast enough speed that handling became somewhat of an issue.”
Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth agreed.
“Daytona has the new pavement and a lot of grip just like Talladega,” he said. “It is the same rules package so I think you will see racing like you did during Speedweeks.”
Richard Childress Racing drivers – Bowyer and Kevin Harvick – have won three of the past four races at Talladega. Childress' 12 victories overall lead all owners with Hendrick one behind. Childress, whose first Talladega start as a driver came in the track's 1969 inaugural race, will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame on Thursday.
“There's some days where we just finish the last few laps and run probably slower than we need to run. But that's always been something that Richard [Childress] has pushed on the guys is to make sure that when you start something, you do your best to not have that DNF on the chart,” said Harvick in explanation of the team's Talladega success. “We've definitely torn up our share of stuff at Talladega, as well. But it has been a good place for us. Hopefully we can keep putting ourselves in the right spot and keep that record intact.”
FEMALE DRIVERS LONG, PATRICK TO MAKE TALLADEGA DEBUTS
Talladega Superspeedway might be one of the most daunting for a series track debut. But to be considered elite in the series, drivers must be able to conquer any track surface the NNS throws at them. And for Johanna Long and Danica Patrick (70 and 7, LEFT), those debuts come this weekend in the Aaron's 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
Long – at age 19 the youngest female to compete in the NNS and a current Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, is from Pensacola, Fla., and cut her racing teeth racing in Legends, Pro Late Models and Super Late Models in Alabama at tracks in Mobile and Opp.
Having made five of the seven series starts this season, Long is currently 19th in the driver standings with an average finish of 21st. She more than held her own in her national series debut at Talladega last October, starting eighth and finishing 16th in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. Long drives for ML Motorsports in the Nationwide Series and the team collected its only top-five result to date at ‘Dega in 2008.
Unlike Long, who has logged laps at Talladega, Patrick will be making her NASCAR debut at the speedway. Much of Patrick's NASCAR success has come at Daytona, Talladega's fellow restrictor plate track. In four starts at Daytona, Patrick has one pole, three top-10 starts, and one top-10 finish.