Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson are not the only pre-Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup favorites in danger of missing the eight-driver Eliminator Round. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is also in a near must-win situation as he enters Sunday’s Geico 500 cutoff race at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on ESPN) ranking 12th (of 12), 26 points behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne for the final advancing spot.
Barring epic collapses from the drivers ahead of him, Earnhardt has to win on Sunday to move onward in the Chase. NASCAR fans thumbing through the record books might see Earnhardt has won five times at Talladega and think he should be a heavy favorite this weekend. Upon further review, they will notice he hasn’t seen victory lane at ’Dega in more than a decade (Oct. 3, 2004).
During his 19-race ’Dega drought, Earnhardt has recorded a respectable six top-10 finishes, including two runner-ups, the most recent in last fall’s Talladega tussle. The stretch pales in comparison to his three-year, seven-race run (2001-04) at Talladega when he notched a track-record four consecutive victories, followed by two straight runner-up finishes and a fifth checkered flag.
Earnhardt will attempt to rekindle some of his old Talladega magic to make up for a pair of tough-luck performances in the first two races of the Eliminator Round. He was leading the opener at Kansas for 45 laps until he hit the wall on the 122nd go-around, causing him to finish 39th. In the second event at Charlotte, Earnhardt could not overcome an issue with his shifter as he took 20th-place.
A rejuvenated Earnhardt has notched three victories this year, as many as he has accumulated in his last eight seasons combined. His highest Chase finish was a third-place result in 2003.