Countdown To The Aaron's 499: Talladega Two-Car Drafts Prompt Strategy Changes For Dale Earnhardt Jr., Others

This is part of a series of posts sponsored by Talladega Superspeedway. Whether you are making a week-long vacation out of it or coming just for a day, make sure to plan your Talladega experience today. This is more than a race. This is Talladega.

If you ask the drivers, this week's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway is going to be filled with the same type of dramatic racing as the Daytona 500.

The field will be split up into two-car drafts, and hooking up with a partner will be the key to success – as well as being in the right place at the right time, of course.

"We'll be doing the same thing we did at Daytona," Tony Stewart said. "I guarantee you right off the bat, that's exactly what everybody is going to do as soon as they hit the racetrack – go right back into that mode."

Well, perhaps with one notable exception: Since Talladega is wider than Daytona, Stewart and other drivers said the two-car tandems might be able to go four-wide instead of running into each other while trying to make it three-wide.

In essence, there will be more places for the lead car to steer around a slower pairing ahead.

"Talladega is a much wider race track – there's a lot more racing lines and grooves and room to race on," Jeff Gordon said. "We should be able to do the two-car drafts a lot easier than we did at Daytona. Hopefully we're not hooking and spinning one another like we were in Daytona."

Gordon said he had "no doubt" the race would be determined by two-car drafts, but teams have likely gotten smarter since Daytona. After all, it seemed to catch everyone by surprise there that drivers could push one another around until they overheated.

It's safe to imagine many teams worked on cooling issues in the two months since Daytona.

"It will come down to two-car drafts, but it's more of two cars that can stay hooked up together and not have to put air to the nose to the car in back," Gordon said. "The ones that can do the best job of that and the switch over – those are the ones that are going to go fast."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he was "disappointed" to hear NASCAR shrunk the size of restrictor plate, all but assuring the two-car drafts would be the best way to race. He said Talladega is a "lottery" and added "it will be anybody's game."

But even before NASCAR announced the plate change, Earnhardt Jr. had decided he would already change his strategy for Talladega.

"I haven't really finished well there in the last several trips," he said. "I'll probably try to take care of my car a little better during the race. It is a very long race. Try to make better decisions; better judgment calls to have my car there at the end when I need to be able to be around to get a good finish."

Talladega, of course, is the de facto capital of Junior Nation. Dale Earnhardt won 10 races there; Earnhardt Jr. has won five.

And NASCAR's most popular driver said because of the way Talladega fans get excited to see him run up front, he feels an "obligation...to try to do the best I can to put the car out front all the time at that place."

"You try to let the reality of the situation and the job you are doing override that, but sometimes, you just go all out and want to be in the lead all the time," he said, "which is not a bad way to go."

Earnhardt Jr. didn't blame his desire to be up front at Talladega as the culprit for his struggles there recently, though, saying "we just haven't made good choices toward the end of those races."

"Hopefully, I can go back with a better sense of what I need to do and make better judgment calls when it comes down to it."

Of course, that's easy for any driver to say before the green flag drops at Talladega. Once the 'Dega madness starts, sometimes good decision-making goes out the window.

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