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.