It’s a wild card, an equalizer, a track where anyone has a chance to win. Talladega Superspeedway has been the home of “the big one” numerous times, as well as the home of the closing-laps statement, “Where did he come from?” This weekend, NASCAR’s Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series visit the 2.66-mile superspeedway in Alabama for the Aaron’s Dream Weekend, featuring the Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 on Saturday, May 3 and the Cup Series Aaron’s 499 on Sunday, May 4.
More surprising than some of the drivers who have yet to win this year in the Cup Series is the list of drivers who have won at Talladega in recent years. Brian Vickers came through for his first career victory with Hendrick Motorsports in fall of 2006, while Brad Keselowski, at the time a brash young up-and-coming driver, earned his first Cup win – and that of Phoenix Racing – in spring of 2009. In the fall of 2009, Jamie McMurray earned the third win of his career at Talladega for Roush Fenway Racing (his second Talladega win in fall of 2013 came with Chip Ganassi Racing), and last spring, the Davids – Ragan and Gilliland – teamed up to beat the Goliaths and give Front Row Motorsports its first win and first 1-2 finish in team history.
While neither a wild card nor dark horse driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in the midst of a surprising season – a win at Daytona and six top 10 finishes have him sitting fifth in points. What’s even more surprising is the strength of his JR Motorsports team in the Nationwide Series, with a surprising leader – rookie Chase Elliott, the 18-year-old son of one of the late Dale Earnhardt’s chief rivals, 1988 Cup champ Bill Elliott. The younger Elliott, set to graduate from high school in May, has two straight wins at two tracks he had never raced at before – Texas and Darlington, the latter a track his father tore up in the 1980s.
Earnhardt Jr. is the modern-day master of the restrictor plate tracks, with five wins at Talladega and three at Daytona. His five Talladega wins came in the span of seven races from the fall of 2001 to the fall of 2004 – and he finished second in the other two races in that span. Last season, he finished 17th in the spring and was runner-up to McMurray in the fall race.
Like many of the tracks he’s visiting this season, Elliott makes his first career appearance at Talladega this weekend, and he’ll be one of the highlighted drivers in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, which will also include first-time season appearances from Darrell Wallace Jr. and Sam Hornish Jr. for Joe Gibbs Racing. Elliott’s teammates for the race are Nationwide Series full-timer Regan Smith, who won the season-opener in Daytona, and Cup Series star Kasey Kahne.
Qualifying for the Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 takes place Friday, May 2 at 5:40 p.m. CT, with the race going green on Saturday, May 3 at 2 p.m. CT. The Sprint Cup Series qualifies for the Aaron’s 499 on Saturday at 12:10 p.m. CT, and takes the green flag Sunday, May 4 at noon CT.
Source: “Storylines: 2014 Talladega-1,” NASCAR Media, April 28, 2014
“Statistical Advance: Analyzing the Aaron’s 499,” NASCAR Media, April 29, 2014