This Week in Auto Racing May 4 - 6

10:55 AM, May 2, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Get ready for another wild weekend of racing, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series run at Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

Aaron's 499 - Talladega Superspeedway - Talladega, AL

The pack is back at Talladega Superspeedway.

After the Sprint Cup Series competed at Talladega last October, NASCAR made numerous modifications to the cars for upcoming restrictor-plate races. Alterations to the restrictor plates and the front grille openings on the cars were made. NASCAR anticipated the changes would bring back the traditional pack racing and significantly reduce the two-car breakaways at both Talladega and Daytona International Speedway.

The pack returned for Speedweeks at Daytona in February, and it won approval from both the competitors and the fans.

"I think the pack-racing that we had at Daytona was amazing," Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin said. "The two-car tandem didn't win the race. That's a good thing. They [NASCAR] got us to where we were running a fast enough speed that handling became somewhat of an issue."

Expect Sunday's 500-mile race at Talladega to be much like we saw earlier this year at Daytona. However, air temperatures reaching close to 90 degrees at Talladega this weekend will be a factor. Teams will have to deal with possible overheating issues with the cars.

"Temperatures are quite a bit higher than we had at Daytona, so it's going to be interesting to see if we have any temperature problems, and, if we do, what adjustments will be made to fix that and to help us along," Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer said.

"It's such a fine line. We all get what they're trying to accomplish to keep us from two-car tandems. But also we can't be overheating running in the pack as well. It's a very fine line right there. Probably whatever rule, they'll still have to manage that very situation of running in the pack and not overheating until the time's right and go for it."

Martin Truex Jr. shared the same sentiment as his teammate, Bowyer.

"I don't think the two-car tandem will be like it was last year with the cooling system regulations and all the things that they did at Daytona," Truex noted. "With the temperatures approaching 90 degrees down there this weekend, I don't think we'll see a lot of two-car racing until the end. Even then, I don't think guys can go more than three or four laps.

"I think it's going to be a mix of pack-racing, a little two-car tandem here and there, but there's no way we'll stay hooked up all day like we did last year."

Bowyer has won the last two fall races at Talladega. He finished a scant 0.002 seconds behind winner Jimmie Johnson in last year's spring event there. Bowyer drove for Richard Childress Racing in Sprint Cup full time from 2006-11 but moved over to MWR for the start of this season.

"I just want to get down there and hopefully have the same success we've had over the past couple of years," Bowyer added.

The last two spring races at Talladega have been thrillers. Both events featured a NASCAR-record 88 lead changes.

In April 2010, Kevin Harvick ended a 115-race winless streak in the series after edging Jamie McMurray at the finish line by just 0.011 seconds. Johnson's margin over Bowyer one year ago at Talladega tied the closest race finish in NASCAR's top-tier series since the sanctioning body began using electronic timing and scoring in 1993. Ricky Craven beat Kurt Busch by 0.002 seconds in the 2003 spring race at Darlington Raceway.

Johnson has had his share of ups and downs at Talladega lately. The five-time series champion has finished 26th or worse in three of the last six races there. Johnson's first win at this track came in May 2006.

"We've been hit or miss here, so I'm very hopeful that we're on," he said. Talladega is always fun, especially this time of the year. When we get there during the Chase, if you're in the Chase, it's just really a stressful event. But with the rules as they are, it should be exciting, and we should see a lot more pack-racing and put on a great show for everybody."

Both Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports have been winless in the last 15 races. Johnson gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 199th and most recent victory in Cup last October at Kansas Speedway.

Will this finally be the weekend that Hendrick gets his 200th win in the series?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a five-time race winner at Talladega, including a track- record four consecutive victories from October 2001 to April 2003. All of his wins there came when he drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Earnhardt Jr.'s winless drought is now 138 races. His last victory in the series came in June 2008 at Michigan, which was his first season with Hendrick.

After finishing second to Kyle Busch last Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, Earnhardt Jr. moved up to second in the point standings. He is currently five points behind leader Greg Biffle.

"The team is confident, and we're feeling good," Earnhardt Jr said. "We're getting better at running the top five and top 10s. We'll just try to keep doing that. There's too many variables going into races at Talladega whether you feel confident winning or not. There's just too much going on there."

Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Aaron's 499.

Nationwide Series

Aaron's 312 - Talladega Superspeedway - Talladega, AL

The Nationwide Series will begin what should be a thrilling weekend of racing at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last year's Nationwide event at Talladega was a wild one to say the least. It featured a track-record 56 leads changes, 11 cautions, two red flags for extensive cleanup efforts and a whole lot of mayhem.

Kyle Busch was involved in a 21-car accident late in the race, but Busch somehow bounced back to win it. The scheduled 117-lap event was extended with two green-white-checkered finishes. Busch propelled to the lead on the final lap when his drafting partner and then Nationwide teammate Joey Logano bumped him to the front. He remained the leader when the race ended under caution for a crash involving Mike Wallace.

This will be the first time Busch competes at Talladega in his No. 54 Toyota.

Last Friday night at Richmond International Raceway, his elder brother, Kurt, gave Kyle Busch Motorsports its first Nationwide race win. Kyle Busch won the Sprint Cup Series race there the following night.

Kurt also drove the car in the April 13 race at Texas Motor Speedway. He suffered engine failure late in the race and ended up finishing 30th.

"I've been out of the No. 54 car for a few weeks now and have watched my brother have success with our team, so now it's my turn," Kyle Busch said. "What we accomplished last week was good for the program."

Both Kurt and Kyle Busch are among the six Sprint Cup regulars competing in the Nationwide race at Talladega. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Logano are the others. Kurt Busch will drive the No. 1 Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing. He was also behind the wheel of that car for the February 25 season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s fourth-place finish compared to a sixth-place run for Elliott Sadler at Richmond allowed Stenhouse to trim Sadler's points lead to just two.

Talladega has not been one of Stenhouse's best tracks in Nationwide. The defending series champion has finished 29th and 38th in his first two races there.

"I am looking forward to racing at Talladega," Stenhouse said. "We had a strong Ford Mustang at Daytona but were caught in the last-lap wreck. We need to find a drafting partner early on in the race to work with. Our plan is to stay out of trouble and be up front at the end to be able to go for the win."

Sadler placed fifth in last year's race at Talladega.

"Talladega is always a wild race," he said. "You have to be lucky, and you have to be smart. We are bringing the same car that we brought to Daytona earlier this season. It's definitely a fast car, and we finished third and led some laps [at Daytona].

"I think we've learned a lot about these new Nationwide Series cars since the last time we were at Talladega, so I'm looking forward to getting back there. It's definitely one of the races you circle on your calendar, because you don't know what is going to happen."

Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Aaron's 312.

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