Dale Earnhardt Jr. always brings his “A” game to Talladega. For this weekend’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at the 2.66-mile track, he needs to pack similarly.
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.