Johnson, Hamlin Need Plate-Race Turnarounds
Jimmie Johnson is zero-for-three in this season's trio of restrictor plate races at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway. Three races equal three accidents and finishes of 42nd, 35th and 36th – and work to be done on Sunday.
Johnson has a pair of Talladega victories, the most recent in the track's 2011 spring event. But his 'Dega driver rating (81.5) is his worst of any track on the schedule. Denny Hamlin looks to extend a modest Talladega Chase race streak. Hamlin finished eighth in last year's event and ninth in 2010, his near-miss championship season. His overall performance at the 2.66-mile track has been good – driver rating of 87.0, eighth best – but Hamlin's average finish in 13 races is 18.2. He was among 17 leaders of May's Aaron's 499 but finished 23rd.
Earnhardt's History Points To Success At Talladega
Dale Earnhardt Jr. always is strong Talladega, and a win or strong finish at the tough-to-predict track would go a long way in propelling Earnhardt back into championship contention. Heading into the fourth race of the Chase, he sits seventh in the standings, 39 points back.
In 25 NSCS events at Talladega, only twice has Earnhardt failed to lead a lap – his first race there in April 2000 and the October 2005 race. He currently has a streak of 13 consecutive races in which he has led at least one lap going back to May 2006. Over his career, he has logged a total of 719 laps led, with his highest total (133) coming in the April 2002 race.
Earnhardt Jr., a five-time winner at Talladega, trails only his father Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon in wins at Talladega. Earnhardt Sr. is the all-time wins leader with 10 victories; Gordon has six. Earnhardt Jr. last triumphed back in October 2004. Overall, Earnhardt has captured nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes with an average finish of 14.8 at the track.
Can The Victor Be A Spoiler?
Here's your answer: Absolutely. Talladega offers arguably the best opportunity for non-Chase drivers to poach a win and play the role of spoiler in the championship hunt. "Spoilers" are 0-for-3 to start this season's Chase. But a race at Talladega could change all that – and often does.
In the eight previous Chases, a non-Chase driver has won the Talladega race four times, including last year when Clint Bowyer captured Richard Childress Racing's 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
The first Talladega "spoiler" just happens to be calling the race this weekend for ESPN – Dale Jarrett, who won the 'Dega Chase race in 2005. Other Talladega spoilers: Brian Vickers in 2006 and Jamie McMurray in 2009.
McMurray ranks among the top spoilers this weekend, mainly because of his restrictor-plate history (he has three career plate wins). Though in a slump that has seen five consecutive finishes outside the top 20, McMurray excels at Talladega. He finished 11th in the spring, and has led laps in five of the last six races.
If not McMurray, Kyle Busch might be the best. Coming off a 302-laps-led effort at Dover, Busch scored a runner-up finish at Talladega last May and won in 2008.
• Carl Edwards will make his 600th NASCAR national series start this weekend, becoming the 40th driver to reach that milestone. The starts breakdown: 294 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, 245 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and 60 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
• With Edwards' fifth-place finish at Dover, Roush Fenway Racing reached 700 career top-five NSCS finishes.
• Michael Waltrip will return to the seat of the No. 55 Toyota for the fourth time this season. Waltrip finished 19th at Talladega earlier this season, and led 21 laps. He finished ninth at Daytona in July, his last start.