Talladega Storylines & Notes

Aaron's 499
Aaron's 499

TALLADEGA, AL (WIAT) – It’s NASCAR’s largest track and arguably most discussed. After the “Gen-6″ cars got off to a rocky start at Daytona Superspeedway in February, many drivers are looking forward to seeing how they stack up in another restrictor plate race. Last October’s winner at Talladega, Matt Kenseth, is curious to see how the cars have changed since last season.

“You know, obviously everything is really different, and this season, too, if you’re ever going to make a change, this is probably a good year to do it with the Generation 6 car coming online, so that was and still is a learning curve I think for each and every team, whether you’re with the same group, different group, different team, same team, all that stuff.  It’s still a learning curve. So you know, I like the things that we have done so far, like where we are at from as a performance perspective.  But I won’t say anything really carried over from last year and where it was before or any of that kind of stuff.  More just started off testing this winter and working on these cars and we just continue to try to do that,” Kenseth said.

Even though the focus should be on the driving, many including Kenseth say “The Big One” is always on their mind.

“You know, I think whenever you go to Daytona and Talladega and go to a restrictor plate race, certainly being in a wreck is more on your mind than any other racetrack; you’re going faster, big packs. Ever since I started racing, or even really started watching NASCAR racing, that’s the way it’s been.  The first thing you think of when you think of Talladega – and you want to be honest, you think of a wreck, as a fan or driver or whatever, that’s usually what comes to your mind is big packs of cars and big wrecks.”

Qualifying for the Aaron’s 499 is set for Saturday at 11:10 am. The Nationwide race, the Aaron’s 312 is scheduled for 2 pm Saturday. The Aaron’s 499 is scheduled for 12 pm CST on Sunday.

Here are some race notes via Talladega Superspeedway Communications:

Fast Facts

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

Next Race: Aaron’s 499

The Place: Talladega Superspeedway

The Date: Sunday, May 5

The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)

TV: FOX, 12 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 500.08 miles (188 laps)

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES

Next Race: Aaron’s 312

The Place: Talladega Superspeedway

The Date: Saturday, May 4

The Time: 3 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN, 2:30 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 311.22 miles (117 laps)

NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

Next Race: North Carolina Education Lottery 200

The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway

The Date: Friday, May 17

The Time: 8 p.m. (ET) 

TV: SPEED, 7:30 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 201 miles (134 laps)

There’s No Sure Thing In ‘Talladega Time’

Gentlemen – and lady – get ready to roll the dice.

It’s Talladega time, on a 2.66-mile superspeedway that could double as a super-sized craps table.

On most other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekends, the list of favorites is long but nothing like that for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499.

Would you believe any one of the 43 starters celebrating in Victory Lane?

Talladega Superspeedway is known for surprises. Ten different drivers have posted first victories in NASCAR’s premier series at ’Dega. Some, like defending race winner and 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski, Davey Allison, Ken Schrader and Brian Vickers, used the victory as a springboard to future success.

Others – Richard Brickhouse, Dick Brooks, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard, Bobby Hillin Jr. and Phil Parsons – never won again.

Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson might be a good pick. So, too, last year’s Talladega winners Keselowski and Matt Kenseth.

At the other end of the spectrum, why not Front Row Motorsport drivers David Ragan and David Gilliland?

Never a winner in Sprint Cup, Bob Jenkins’ Front Row Motorsport is an emerging organization that has performed best on NASCAR’s restrictor-plate tracks. The team’s two top-five performances came at Talladega and Daytona.

Gilliland finished third in the 2011 Daytona 500; Ragan fourth in last fall’s Chase race at Talladega.

Ragan finished seventh in the Aaron’s 499 a year ago. Gilliland posted a ninth-place finish in the previous year’s event.

Maybe not so much a long shot after this year’s Daytona 500 is Danica Patrick. Patrick became the series’ first female Coors Light Pole winner, ran among the leaders throughout the Daytona 500 and finished a solid eighth.

Patrick never has driven a NASCAR Sprint Cup car at ’Dega but finished 13th in 2012 in the track’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event. She’ll return for Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 in a Chevrolet out of the Turner Scott Motorsports stable.

Parity Rules Since Earnhardt-Gordon ’Dega Domination

Only 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 Threat

Kevin 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’ Gone

Matt 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 Flare

History 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.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is streaking. Juan Pablo Montoya notched a fourth-place finish last Saturday night at Richmond, his first top-five finish in more than two years. His last was at Martinsville on April 3, 2011. A strong restrictor-plate racer, teammate Jamie McMurray has a win and five top fives at Talladega. … Milestone Watch: This Sunday, Bobby Labonte will attempt to become the 14th driver to 700 NSCS starts. … His brother Terry Labonte, set to run the No. 32 Ford this weekend, will take sole possession of third on the all-time NSCS starts list if he makes the race. He currently has 883 starts. … Jeff Gordon, whose next top five will be No. 300 in NSCS competition, started his 698th consecutive NSCS race last Saturday, which is the second-longest consecutive race streak of all-time behind Ricky Rudd’s 788. … Aric Almirola has scored three consecutive top 10 finishes, the longest current streak.

Smith, Ives Give JR Motorsports Title Aspirations

Ever since Dale Earnhardt Jr. and several others, including his sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller, started JR Motorsports back in 2005, they have worked relentlessly to field a championship-caliber race car.

Sure, the team, which also includes Rick Hendrick as a co-owner, has had its share of bright moments – Brad Keselowksi’s back-to-back third-place finishes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings in 2008 and 2009; Danica Patrick’s fourth-place finish in 2011 at Las Vegas, the highest result for a female in any NASCAR national series event.

More recently, Regan Smith’s victory in last year’s series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was another high-water mark. The win came in Smith’s first and only NASCAR Nationwide race last season, providing the driver and team confidence heading into 2013 and giving the team its 10th series victory.

This year, Smith returned to JR Motorsports to drive a full schedule in the No. 5 Chevrolet. He is teamed up with chew chief Greg Ives, a five-time NSCS championship-winning engineer with Jimmie Johnson.

Through the first seven races, the Smith-Ives pairing has paid off. Although the No. 5 team hasn’t visited Victory Lane yet, they’ve put themselves right in the thick of the championship battle. Smith trails points leader Sam Hornish Jr. by a mere point, and is 22 points in front of third-place driver Brian Scott.

It is possible with a strong finish in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway that Smith could overtake Hornish for the points lead. If that does happen, it would be the first time a JR Motorsports driver has ever been first in points.

Smith performed well in the first restrictor-plate race of the season, finishing 14th after leading 23 laps in the season opener at Daytona. In two previous series starts at Talladega, Smith has finishes of 23rd and 37th. In last fall’s NSCS race, his most recent trip to the 2.66-mile Alabama track, however, the New York native finished fifth while driving for Furniture Row Racing.

Kligerman Hopes For Strong Restrictor-Plate Showing

Parker Kligerman is quietly fashioning a solid season, hoping to strengthen his bid to claim the NASCAR Nationwide Series crown with a strong showing in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Kligerman led only two laps during his most recent visit to the 2.66-mile tri-oval. Don’t let that fool you, though, as those two laps were the final two circuits around the track. Although the victory came in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver hopes to experience déjà vu in this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Through the season’s first seven races, Kligerman, who drives the No. 77 Toyota, sits eighth in the standings, 40 points behind leader Sam Hornish Jr. Kligerman has two top-five and three top-10 finishes in 2013. In the season’s first restrictor-plate race at Daytona he finished fifth and led 10 laps.

In his only other series start at Talladega, which came in 2010, Kligerman’s day came to an end on Lap 113 when he was involved in a seven-car accident on the frontstretch. He finished the race 31st. In five career restrictor-plate starts between the NNS and NCWTS, Kligerman has four top-five finishes.

Experience Linchpin To Success At Talladega

It always pays to have experience at tracks where anything can happen.

There is no place on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule where this is more apropos than Talladega Superspeedway, where experience trumps those without it. The track’s history supports this.

In 21 Nationwide Series races at the track, only six have been won by drivers not running full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup schedules (1995-1996, 2001-2002, 2004-2005).

Only two drivers have won more than once at Talladega. Martin Truex Jr. has won three times (2004-2006), while Joe Nemechek has two victories (1998, 2000). Although Truex’s last NNS win at the track came in his first full season in NASCAR’s premier series, his first two wins helped propel him to back-to-back NASCAR Nationwide championships.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.

On Thursday morning, Alex Bowman, who will be driving the No. 99 SchoolTipline.com Toyota in Saturday’s Aarons’ 312, will speak to students at Charles R. Drew Middle School in Talladega to kick off the car sponsor’s “Drive Away Bullying Campaign.” … Among the seven NSCS regulars entered in the NNS race are Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Danica Patrick. … Grammy-nominated country artist Chris Young will sing the National Anthem. … NSCS driver Carl Edwards will be a guest analyst in the ESPN booth during the race telecast.

Piquet Pronounces Canadian Road Course Ready

The countdown to Labor Day weekend’s inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park has begun. Former Formula One competitor and current NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Nelson Piquet Jr. tested a Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado on the 2.459-mile road course this week in preparation for the Sept. 1 event.

His conclusion: Canadian fans should get ready for some great competition.

“We have put in the time to find the right gear that should work well and help put on a great show for the fans here in Canada,” he said of the Bowmanville, Ontario, road course near Toronto. “It’s a quick track and reminds me a lot of tracks in England.

“This track has a lot of quick corners and there is not a lot of escape areas or a lot of forgiveness. It reminds me a lot of racing back in England in my old F3 (Formula Three) days.”

Piquet won last year’s Nationwide race at Road America as well as in trucks in Michigan and Las Vegas.

“NASCAR trucks have a lot of power and we have to adjust to the long sweeping corners,” he said of the Canadian track. “It is not like a Road America where you have long straightaways and tight corners.”

The 64-lap, 250-kilometer race marks the series’ first appearance outside United States borders. Greg Biffle won the series’ last road course race in 2000 at Watkins Glen International.

Four-time champion Ron Hornaday Jr., who expects to compete in Canada, and Joe Ruttman are the series’ all-time road course winners with three victories apiece.

Several NCWTS Competitors Talladega Bound

No “vacation” for four NASCAR Camping World Truck competitors due to take advantage of a scheduling gap to compete in Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Joey Coulter, Ty Dillon, John Wes Townley and Scott Riggs will do NASCAR Nationwide Series duty at the 2.66-mile track, due to host trucks on Oct. 19.

Coulter finished second in the April 20 NCWTS race at Kansas Speedway. He’ll drive the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, a four-time winner in 2013 with Kyle Busch behind the wheel.

“It means a lot to me to be given the chance to race for a legendary owner and a company like Monster Energy that is known for winning in every sport they are involved in,” Coulter said.

Dillon will be making his first visit to Talladega in a NASCAR Nationwide Series car and will do battle with his older brother and former NCWTS champion Austin Dillon. He’s finished among the top 10 in three of his four Nationwide Series starts including a third at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He won an ARCA race at Talladega in 2011.

“It’s one of those places where anything can happen, and you still have a shot at winning,” Dillon said. “Luckily, I’ve started from the pole position in both of my previous starts at the track. But, with the draft, you can fall back and cruise for a while, then drive right up to the front.”

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.

Things seem to happen in pairs at ThorSport Racing, where the birth of Matt and Ashley Crafton’s daughter, Elladee, on April 26 came days after the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points leader won at Kansas Speedway. Two years ago, teammate Johnny Sauter’s wife, Cortney, gave birth to daughter Paige in the week following the driver’s Martinsville victory.

Gifford Secures Win For Rev Racing

Ryan Gifford has been with Rev Racing since it began fielding cars for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program in 2010. The 24-year-old driver from Winchester, Tenn., burst onto the scene driving for RCR in 2009 with three top fives in four NASCAR K&N Pro Series starts.

The next step didn’t materialize for Gifford as quickly over the next several years, but the team’s confidence in him has never wavered. He rewarded that patience last Thursday as he drove to Victory Lane in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Richmond International Raceway.

He became the fourth different driver to win a race in the series for Rev Racing. In the four years, the team has won 11 of 44 K&N Pro Series East events.

Gifford pointed to his racing outside the K&N Pro Series car last year as a big help to get him back on track. Gifford works with Team Dillon Racing – which fields dirt cars for Austin and Ty Dillon. Gifford got back to racing dirt last year and had success. He said after the Richmond win, “I was like, I’m still a fairly decent race car driver and I can still go out here and win. Just that last year gave me the confidence I could go out and win.”

Gifford moved up to second in points, seven behind Brett Moffitt. The K&N Pro Series East has had four winners in the first four races.

The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West returns to action this weekend with the G-Oil 150 at Stockton (Calif.) 99 Speedway Saturday. To date, 32 drivers have entered for 24 spots on the tight .25-mile oval.

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