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Though he's always a good quote, Brad Keselowski was particularly eloquent after his victory in Sunday's NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway (you can see the race results here).
In honor of his second win of the year – and in homage to his sponsor – here is a six-pack of his best quotes and observations in the post-race winner's press conference.
1. On whether he sits and thinks at night about what moves to make on the racetrack:
"It's long nights on them buses, unless you have somebody to make it not long, and I'm happily single. So I'll just go ahead and clear the record."
2. On whether he was worried about seeing Kyle Busch in his rear-view mirror, given their history of run-ins:
"That's a fair assumption."
3. On out-dueling Matt Kenseth in the final laps:
"Hell, it's my job to be good. That's what I get paid for. I don't get paid to suck at this. If I did, I'm not driving for the right guy (Roger Penske)."
4.On why Keselowski didn't share with his plan to get around Kenseth and fend off Busch with his crew chief, Paul Wolfe:
"He's on a need-to-know basis. Sometimes I'm on a need-to-know basis. Sometimes there's things I'd rather he didn't tell me and there's times there's things he'd rather I didn't tell him. It's in that category."
5. On where he stands on the often differing and conflicting opinions drivers and fans have on what constitutes "good racing."
"I look at chess matches – not a lot of them on TV, (and they) sure as hell don't get 100,000 people to come to the match. So we got to balance those things.
"This package might be a little bit more to the daredevil side, but I'm all right with that, because we go to places where it's more to the chess player side. That's balance. I'll live with that and I'll be happy."
6. On whether this year will be a disappointment if he doesn't win the championship:
"I refuse to label this year a failure if we don't win a championship. I was talking about this the other day. Part of what defines a man is what code you live by. One of my codes – it's probably my strongest code – is to be better today than I was yesterday, and to be even better tomorrow than I was today."
Is it possible to get too good of a restart?
At Talladega, the answer is yes. Just ask Matt Kenseth, who was leading on the green-white-checkered restart but pulled out too far in front of the field. When he did so, it opened the door for the third- and fourth-place cars of Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to steamroll by the Roush duo of Kenseth and Greg Biffle on the high side and go on to settle the race amongst themselves.
"I wasn't too fast, I was just too stupid I guess at the end to keep him (Biffle) with me," Kenseth said. "I think there was a lot of stuff that happened there at Daytona in the 150's and the 500 where I didn't worry about if the guy behind me was detached, because he had two or three guys behind him in his lane and we were still fast enough that he could push me out far enough where a tandem couldn't beat us.
"I had that same strategy today. I thought we would be OK, and I think that if they would have stayed behind him until we got to Turn 3, we still would have been OK."
But there was a problem with that strategy. When Busch and Keselowski bailed out, it made Biffle's car lose his momentum.
"(He) couldn't stay sealed up to me," Kenseth said. "I should have watched him and drug the brake a little better."
Instead of winning his second race of the season as it appeared he would, Kenseth had to settle for third.
Although the third-place finish was Kenseth's sixth top-five in 10 starts and was good enough to move him up two spots in the standings – just seven points behind Biffle – even that bit of good news wasn't enough to offer Kenseth any consolation.
"I think we had the winning car, we just didn't have the winning driver," he said.
As soon as Dale Earnhardt Jr. emerged from his No. 88 car after a ninth-place result at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, he caught the eye of crew chief Steve Letarte and the two walked away for a private conversation.
Standing between two transporters, Earnhardt Jr. let his crew chief know how he felt about his car in much more detail than the driver had revealed on the team radio.
No one – not the team members, public relations representatives or reporters – could hear the conversation. And that's significant, because it represents somewhat of a change from how Earnhardt Jr. used to conduct himself.
"Two or three years ago, I would have complained about everything I thought was wrong with that car today over the radio," he said. "Today, I know better."
It's that type of veteran experience – along with a good car and good team – that's propelled Earnhardt Jr. to what has so far been one of his best seasons ever.
"This is definitely the most consistent I've ever ran," he said.
There's evidence to back that up: The Talladega race marked Earnhardt Jr.'s sixth consecutive top-10 finish, which matches his career-long streak (the other one came in 2004).
But Sunday's result might not have happened a few years ago. In the middle part of the race, Earnhardt Jr. said he realized "we didn't have such a great car," and in order to finish, "I needed to be smart."
So he played it a bit safer than he would have preferred – after all, Earnhardt Jr. loves to lead laps at Talladega – but it worked out.
"I think you always hope to get better the more you run, the longer you are around," he said. "I'm definitely more mature, especially in the decisions I make on the racetrack."
One of those decisions, though, was just instinct.
When avoiding a big crash that took out several contenders, Earnhardt Jr. came to a virtual halt before weaving his way through the wreckage.
So how'd he do it?
"I didn't really go through it at all," he said. "I just stopped and watched the whole thing, and when everybody got done crashing, I just took off and drove on out of there."
Tony Stewart has given some memorable interviews over the course of his NASCAR career, but Sunday's post-race group session with reporters after finishing 24th at Talladega has to be his most bizarre ever.
For more than four minutes, Stewart put on an acting performance that would make Tom Hanks jealous. With a completely straight face, Stewart offered comment after comment about how great the racing was – even though he really didn't think so.
"The racing was awesome," Stewart said. "It's fun to be able to race and have to watch the (overheating) gauges at the same time. It just adds that much more. Being able to make yourself run on the apron and everything to try to get clean air, it makes it fun."
Hmm. Kind of a weird thing to say, right? But Stewart is the kind of guy who likes a challenge, so maybe he was being serious. There was no indication he wasn't.
"I'm just sorry we couldn't crash more cars today," he added. "We didn't fill the quota for Talladega and NASCAR."
OK, now clearly he didn't mean that. There's no way in hell Stewart thinks more cars should crash, and so his earlier quote was also a joke.
But here's the thing: Stewart did nothing – nothing! – to reveal he was kidding.
When a reporter asked about what NASCAR should do to alleviate the overheating concerns, Stewart took the opposite approach and said in apparent sincerity they should "close (the grille opening) down" and run the engines until they blow up "to make it more exciting for fans."
"Honestly, if we haven't crashed at least 50 percent of the field by the end of the race, we need to extend the race until we crash at least 50 percent of the cars," he said. "It's not fair to these fans to see any more wrecks than that, any more torn-up cars. I mean, we still had over half the cars running at the end, and it shouldn't be that way."
What. The. Hell? Yes, it was obvious Stewart didn't mean what he was saying if you listened to his words. But by his body language, tone of voice and facial expression, he appeared to be completely sincere.
"That's what the fans want," he insisted. "They want to see that excitement. I feel bad that as drivers, we couldn't do a better job of crashing enough cars for them today."
One reporter finally admitted he was confused and told Stewart it was hard to tell if he was upset with the racing or happy with it.
"I'm upset that we didn't crash more cars," he said convincingly. "That's what we're here for. I feel bad if I don't spend at least $150,000 in torn-up race cars going back to the shop. We've definitely got to do a better job at that."
OK, OK. So he didn't like the racing. But seriously, Tony: Why do you think the fans just want to see wrecks?
"I don't know if that's what they're looking for, but I feel like that's the show we deserve to give them," he said. "That's what's made Talladega, Talladega."
Another reporter then asked Stewart if he "had fun out there," to which the driver immediately nodded and responded "absolutely."
"I had a blast," he said. "It would have been a lot more fun if I could have gotten caught up in one more wreck. If I would have done that, it would have been perfect."
Again, this can't be emphasized enough: There were no cracks in the facade, even though Stewart was lying straight out of his ass. It was a remarkable, Oscar-worthy performance – and one that just kept going and going.
Another reporter pressed on, asking Stewart if he preferred the pack racing over the tandem racing.
"I think we ought to make it a Figure Eight (race)," he said. "I mean, if we could make it a Figure Eight, it would be perfect. It would absolutely be perfect here. It'd be better than what we've got."
At this point, I'll admit it: I could hardly contain myself. I was covering up my mouth giving every effort possible not to laugh in his face.
But Stewart wasn't done yet.
"Or we could stop at halfway, take a break, then turn around and go backward," he said. "Then, with 10 to go, we could split the field and half of them could go in the regular direction and half could go backward."
With that – and not a wink, smile or hint of sarcasm – Stewart saw there were no more questions, nodded to indicate the interview was over and walked away.
Brad Keselowski got a push to the lead from Kyle Busch and proceeded to run away from his dancing partner in winning Sunday's Aaron's 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at at Talladega Superspeedway.
The victory was Keselowski's second of the season, second at the 2.66-mile track, the sixth of his Sprint Cup career and the first for Dodge at Talladega since Dave Marcis took the checkered flag 36 years ago.
Busch finished second, followed by Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and series leader Greg Biffle. Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Trevor Bayne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton completed the top 10.
Keselowski's victory ended a wild final quarter of the race, which extended six laps past a scheduled 188 because of a flurry of late cautions.
As the field began a round of green-flag pit stops with 45 laps left, a massive chain-reaction wreck in Turn 3 eliminated a handful of contending cars, including the No. 24 Chevrolet of pole-sitter Jeff Gordon.
Contact between the Ford of Aric Almirola and the Chevrolet of Dave Blaney triggered the crash, which also collected Martin Truex's Toyota, Carl Edwards' Ford and Juan Pablo Montoya's Chevrolet, among others.
"It was like a wreck at a stoplight," Edwards said. "Everybody started checking up and hitting each other."
With the herd thinned considerably, Paul Menard led the field to a restart on Lap 151. Hamlin, who had regained a lost lap as the highest scored lapped car when NASCAR called the caution on Lap 143, surged to the front, where he swapped the top spot with Brad Keselowski.
Kenseth restarted at the back of the field under a penalty for pitting too soon under the Lap 143 caution, but he quickly worked his way forward, wresting the lead from Denny Hamlin on Lap 167, with the Dodges of Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger lined up behind him.
Five laps later, Hamlin found an opening between Kenseth and Keselowski and took second, but a Lap 175 wreck that started when Casey Mears cut a tire, scrambled the field for a restart with nine laps left in regulation.
As the field crossed the finish line on Lap 181, contact from Keselowski's Dodge sent the Chevrolet of Kurt Busch spinning into the inside wall at the entry to Turn 1. Kenseth led the field to a restart on Lap 185.
The green flag lasted only moments. As soon as the cars crossed the start/finish line, Hamlin ducked to the inside, and Allmendinger tried to block the middle lane. The nose of Hamlin's car, however, was already inside Allmendinger's bumper, and contact between the two cars started a wreck that ruined the chances of Hamlin, Menard, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Michael Waltrip.
Note: Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman both exited the race with oil pump problems and finished 35th and 36th, respectively.
Here are the NASCAR Talladega results from today's race:
Here are some storylines to watch for in today's NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway:
The Pack is Back
Gone is two-car tandem drafting, and in its place is a return to cars running around side-by-side in a large group. But the return to pack racing comes with inherent risks, as restrictor-plate racing is more about surviving and not getting swept up in the "Big One" whenever it inevitably occurs.
The old adage, "To finish first, one must first finish" is the mantra of the weekend. Look for many a driver to try to play it safe until there's about 20 or so laps to go. After that, expect a free-for-all with at least one if not more attempts at a green-white-checkered finish. Think of this as NASCAR's version of a reality show, where the field will slowly be whittled down until one contestant is left standing.
Keeping Those Motors Cool ... and Running
Playing into the above storyline, engine durability is going to be something to keep an eye on today. Within a couple of laps of running behind another car, drivers quickly see a spike in their engine temps, and it's going to be a chore for them to keep their engines cooled and running to their full productivity for 500 miles – even more so with the weather temperature expected to be high.
Another First-Time Winner?
From Richard Brickhouse winning the very first race here in 1969, to Brad Keselowski's out-of-nowhere win in this race three years ago, Talladega has had an uncanny way of producing first-time winners. In total, 10 drivers have scored their inaugural Sprint Cup victory on the 2.6-mile oval.
If we are to see another first-time winner this afternoon, look for it to be AJ Allmendinger – who lines up second – or maybe the guy who replaced Allmendinger at Richard Petty Motorsports, Aric Almirola, who in his first race working with new crew chief Mike Ford topped both sessions of practice.
• Not since Dave Marcis won here in 1976 has a Dodge car been to Victory Lane at Talladega – a span of 70 races. On that same note, Chevy has won 20 of the last 24 races here.
• On Saturday, Jeff Gordon sped to his first pole of 2012, marking the 20th consecutive season the four-time Cup champion has qualified P1 and moved him into a tie with David Pearson for the longest streak in series history.
• The last four races at Talladega have featured 72, 88, 87 and 88 lead changes.
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Coming off a great run at Richmond, where he finished runner-up to Kyle Busch and moved up to second in the standings just five points behind leader Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears ever closer to finally snapping his 138-race winless streak.
What better place for it to happen than Talladega, where he's been victorious five times and has three runner-up finishes. And if Earnhardt Jr. were to win today, he would likely move to the top of the standings for the first time since September 2004.
2. Clint Bowyer
You may be surprised to be see Clint Bowyer's name on this list, but you shouldn't be. In his last three starts at Talladega, Bowyer has two wins and finished second in the other. However, it's worth noting that his prior success all came while he was driving for Richard Childress Racing – a powerhouse on the plate tracks – and not his current Michael Waltrip Racing team.
3. Matt Kenseth
As evidenced by his win in the Daytona 500, Matt Kenseth has this pack-drafting thing down pretty well. And to win today, it's going to take patience and know-how to avoid the many pratfalls that racing at Talladega presents, both of which Kenseth more than possesses.
In a race that just about anyone can win, let's roll the dice on Joey Logano, who won yesterday's Nationwide Series race, has a better average finish at Talladega than anyone else in today's field and has posted top-10 finishes here in four of six starts.
The start time for today's NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway will be about 45 minutes later than originally scheduled due to a wet racetrack from some morning storms that rolled through the area.
Thunder and lightning were in the area as heavy rain poured on the Alabama track up until 10 a.m. local time. Since it takes a little more than two hours to dry the track, NASCAR pushed back the driver introductions to 12:15 local time (1:15 Eastern).
Since that's 45 minutes later than scheduled, it stands to reason the Aaron's 499 will begin at approximately 2:05 p.m. Eastern – providing no more rain hits the track.
There are no lights at Talladega, but daylight savings time should allow plenty of time to get the 500-mile race in the books (and yes, it is 500 miles despite the "499" name) if the weather stays out of the area.
We'll keep you posted on the start time here, or you can follow @jeff_gluck on Twitter for more immediate updates.
A weak disturbance moved into northern and eastern Alabama this morning, spreading showers and thunderstorms around Talladega Superspeedway. There was even a severe thunderstorm warning earlier this morning for the track.
The good news is the rain has been diminishing and looks like it will come to an end by midday.
As of 11 a.m. EDT, most of the rain had ended across Talladega Superspeedway, with just a weakening area of showers to the north. These showers look like they could die out before reaching the track. There is still a chance of a lingering shower, but once NASCAR gets the track dried, we should be able to race later this afternoon.
It takes an estimated two hours to dry the track. The green flag start of the race is scheduled for 1:20 p.m Eastern. Because of drying time and a few lurking showers to the north, the start of the race could be delayed. But with sunset at 8:31 p.m. EDT, there should be plenty of time to get the race in later this afternoon.
The forecast for the rest of the afternoon appears to be similar to what we saw on Saturday. Sunshine will return and so will the hot steamy temperatures. Highs could still reach 90 with the heat index feeling like 95. There could be an isolated storm or shower this afternoon as well but I still believe we get this race in today.
12:00 a.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Clouds and sunshine, chance of a shower – temp: 82
1:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Partly sunny, chance of thunderstorm – temp: 86
2:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Partly sunny, chance of thunderstorm – temp: 88
3:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Partly sunny, chance of thunderstorm – temp: 89
4:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Partly sunny, chance of thunderstorm – temp: 90
It's NASCAR race day at Talladega Superspeedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's race for you below.
What time does the race start today? You can't fix stupid, as Ron White likes to say, so make sure to tune in for the Talladega race at 1:20 p.m. Eastern time today. Why do we bring up Ron White? Because the Blue Collar Comedy Tour co-star is today's grand marshal. He'll give the command at 1:08 p.m. Eastern, and then the green flag will wave at 1:20.
Race name/distance: The Aaron's 499 is not 499 miles, as much as everyone would like you to believe that. In reality, the Aaron's 499 is 188 laps around the 2.66-mile track for a total of 500 miles. The "499" is just a marketing gimmick.
TV and radio: Today's race can be seen on FOX. Every Sprint Cup Series race through May will be on the FOX network. Unfortunately, there is no live streaming of the race – but you can listen on the Motor Racing Network's Web site (just click the red link). You can also check MRN's site for a list of affiliate stations in your area.
*** NOTE: If you're out-and-about today and can't watch the race, make sure to follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter. I'll be tweeting updates live from the event. ***
National anthem: Margo Rey is singing the national anthem today, and if you've never heard of her, don't worry – we hadn't, either. But thanks to a Google search, we found out Rey is a Mexican-born singer/songwriter who is – wait for it.... – married to Talladega grand marshal Ron White! Apparently they came as a package deal.
Tickets: Talladega Superspeedway is not a sellout, despite reducing its capacity by approximately 34,000 seats over the past two years. So if you're thinking of making a last-minute trip, I'm sure the track would love to have you.
Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says today's race will be hot and steamy, with temperatures in the high 80s and the slight possibility of scattered showers.
Last time: One year ago, Jimmie Johnson used a push from teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Aaron's 499 to claim one of only two wins for the No. 48 team on the season. Then, last fall, Clint Bowyer pulled out and passed then-teammate Jeff Burton while coming to the finish to win the Good Sam Club 500.
Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Talladega Speedway:
It seemed like all the stars were aligning for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Talladega.
Everything was perfect: Earnhardt Jr. had led seven different times in the Aaron's 312 and was about to restart on the front row with the laps winding down.
He had Austin Dillon behind him – the car sporting a No. 3, the number Dale Earnhardt Sr. famously drove – and it seemed like the two were about to hook up for a shot at the win.
And then, just like that, it disappeared.
So what happened? Dillon got freight-trained on the outside and Earnhardt Jr. lost his drafting help.
"They pulled out and got on his quarterpanel," Earnhardt Jr. said. "That killed him, and then I was just a sitting duck. We just didn't do it right, me and him. I don't think it was anyone's fault in particular, but we could have done a better job together and we just didn't do it right."
COLE WHITT HAPPY TO MOVE ON FROM DAYTONA
In February, when Cole Whitt accidentally spun teammate Danica Patrick in the season-opener at Daytona, the young JR Motorsports driver got a bunch of unwanted publicity.
Patrick criticized Whitt for the move, and Whitt has gotten questions about the incident ever since. So after finishing fourth on Saturday and having a shot to win the race, the rookie was feeling hopeful about moving on.
"Obviously, we have some circumstances to that race we didn't want to have happen," he said. "We've been good, it's just I made myself look bad a little bit by just one thing. It's just so in the limelight with Danica, and I felt terrible about it, but it's just kind of something that happens when you're trying to figure it out.
"I felt like we stayed out of trouble all day today, so it was nice to come out of here unscathed."
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. TAKES OVER POINTS LEAD
Defending Nationwide Series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished third on Saturday and took over the series points lead (by five points over Elliott Sadler).
But Stenhouse Jr. and drafting partner Cole Whitt nearly had a shot to win the race after they teamed up late.
"Our plan was to just go with the 88 there – it looked like our best option," Stenhouse Jr. said. "I didn't want to be getting pushed at the line. I feel like our car was pretty fast pushing somebody it just seemed to struggle a little bit by itself.
"It was cool working with Cole Whitt there, we used to race sprint cars together. He was doing everything he could to stay in line with them and we just couldn't quite get enough there."
NASCAR driver Eric McClure was transported to a local hospital for evaluation on Saturday after a vicious crash in the Nationwide Series race at Talladega.
With five laps to go, Michael Annett (in the car that says Pilot on the hood in the video below) tried to make a daring move up the middle and squeeze into a small bit of daylight.
It didn't work. Annett triggered a multi-car wreck, which sent McClure's orange Hefty-sponsored car head-on into the SAFER barrier on the inside wall.
McClure's radio was silent after the crash and he did not climb from the car, giving spectators a sinking feeling. ABC's broadcast did not show a replay and did not show a close-up shot of the car, which added to fears McClure was seriously injured or worse.
As McClure's crewmen gathered at a nearby pit box to try and watch the TV feed (their own pit box had no monitors), track safety workers cut the roof off the car and carefully pulled McClure out.
The driver was placed on a stretcher and taken via ambulance to the helicopter pad, where he was immediately airlifted to the University of Alabama-Birmingham Medical Center, about 50 miles away.
NASCAR said McClure was conscious, alert and talking to attendants in the helicopter en route to the hospital. We'll update this with further reports of McClure's condition as we get them.
UPDATE (8 p.m. ET Saturday): McClure's public relations Twitter account tweeted this:
Here's the video of McClure's crash:
Danica Patrick appeared to intentionally wreck Sam Hornish Jr. at high speed just after Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega concluded, an attempt to retaliate against Hornish for what she apparently felt was rough driving.
Hornish squeezed Patrick into the wall as the two drivers crossed the finish line of the race, which may have been the result of a flat tire he sustained from earlier race damage.
Patrick lost her cool, though, and tracked Hornish down as the cars were still at speed going into Turn 1. She got up on his back bumper and then turned him head-on into the outside wall.
"I don't know what she had in her head, but she decided to right-rear us, wreck the car after the race was over," Hornish said. "That's really frustrating."
Patrick was not called to the NASCAR hauler after the race, but her move was certainly reminiscent of what Kyle Busch did to Ron Hornaday Jr. in last November's Truck Series race.
Busch was suspended for the remainder of the Texas weekend after wrecking Hornaday. Take a look at the video below and tell me the difference between what Busch did at Texas and what Patrick did Saturday at Talladega:
NASCAR has allowed a "Boys, have at it" policy over the past two years, but Busch's suspension made it clear that intentional wrecking is not permitted.
Will NASCAR react to Patrick's move? If the Busch precedent is any indication, they probably should.
Jeff Gordon tried a different line in qualifying around Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday. As it turns out, the veteran NASCAR driver still can learn a few new tricks.
Gordon picked up his first pole of the season and the 71st of his career, which puts him No. 3 on the all-time list. It was Gordon's first pole in one year; he also started in the top spot at the Talladega spring race last season.
"I did not expect that good of a lap," Gordon told SPEED after his lap. "I knew we were going to be a threat for it, but that's pretty sporty."
AJ Allmendinger was second, followed by Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola – who was fastest in both practices on Friday.
Gordon's teammate Kasey Kahne was fifth, and Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top 10.
JJ Yeley was the only driver who failed to qualify for Sunday's Aaron's 499.
Here is the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked Saturday morning about when he learned just how beloved the Earnhardt name is at Talladega Superspeedway.
After all, Talladega is the capital of Earnhardt Nation – now Junior Nation – where it seems like the majority of fans are rooting for one car in particular. And since Dale Earnhardt Sr. won at Talladega a whopping 10 times, the Earnhardt tradition in Alabama is long and rich.
Surprisingly, Earnhardt Jr. said he wasn't really aware of how big it was until he became a driver himself. As a youngster, Earnhardt Jr. said he "wasn't really concerned with how famous Dad was."
"I was just running around the garage having fun with my buddies," he said.
Most of Earnhardt Jr.'s childhood memories revolve around things other than his famous father's Talladega legacy.
The driver recalled how he was "in awe" of how many brand-new spark plugs and bottles of brake cleaner and glass cleaner were discarded in the Talladega garage.
Back then, teams didn't have crash carts – the oversized toolbox-on-wheels with various parts and pieces – so crewmen took everything with them to pit road.
Left behind were all the items they needed before the race but weren't interested in taking home.
"Me and my buddies would box it up and carry it over to (driver/owner) Jimmy Means' truck so they could take it home," Earnhardt Jr. said. "(I don't know if) they needed it. I don't even know if Jimmy really cared, but we thought we were doing something cool."
Aside from his Talladega janitorial work, Earnhardt Jr. and his friends "begged people to let us wax their race cars."
Things have obviously changed since then, but it would be funny to see Earnhardt Jr. get sentimental and ask to wax another driver's car for old time's sake.
It will feel more like July or August this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Besides the action on the track being hot for the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup series so will the temperatures. Each afternoon the temperatures will climb to near 90 and feel even hotter with the humidity.
With all the moisture around each afternoon there's the risk for a few isolated or scattered thunderstorms. The likelihood of any activity hitting the track is low but if one were to form and move over Talladega Superspeedway it probably wouldn't last more than 30 to 45 minutes. The biggest concern this weekend for fans will be the heat and summer-like steam.
12:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup qualifying – Partly sunny, chance of thunderstorm – temp: 82
3:00 p.m. EDT
Nationwide race – Partly sunny, chance of thunderstorm – temp: 87
12:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup race – Partly sunny, chance of thunderstorm – temp: 86
Choosing his words ever so carefully – perhaps in an attempt not to offend NASCAR and not say anything that would reignite a controversial situation – Carl Edwards expertly skirted questions about last week's race at Richmond International Raceway on Friday.
Instead of discussing the events of last Saturday night – when Edwards jumped the restart and was black-flagged with 81 laps to go – the driver preferred to solely focus on Sunday's running of the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Richmond questions from the assembled media resulted in few answers.
"Last week is last week," Edwards said. "That is done and behind us. There is nothing that I can do or say that is going to change it. That is last week."
If there was a lesson to be learned from everything that transpired, Edwards said the next time he's in a similar situation, he'll approach things differently. But he wouldn't divulge exactly what that was.
"No," Edwards responded when asked to explain what it was he learned. "I learned a lot last week. Like I said, that is last week and that is it."
The message Edwards wanted to deliver more than anything was he has moved on and there is nothing that can be done one way or another to alter the outcome. And as he said last weekend following the 400 lap race, he felt he was the leader and as such, had the right to dictate the speed heading to the start/finish line.
NASCAR obviously didn't concur and penalized the driver. Instead of challenging for his first win in over a year, Edwards instead finished a frustrating 10th in the final rundown.
In the end, all the Roush Fenway Racing driver could do was try and make the best of the situation
"For me personally, when something like that happens, I have been working on doing just what I did," Edwards said. "I gave my honest assessment of what I thought happened and how I felt about it. I spoke with NASCAR and came to the conclusion that those actions are all that I can take. That is it.
"There is nothing else that I can do. I am satisfied with that personally that I did everything I could do and that is that."
After a late debris caution cost him a likely win at Richmond International Raceway last weekend, Tony Stewart immediately questioned the reason NASCAR called for a yellow flag.
Stewart said the "debris" was actually a water bottle and "it was out of the groove."
"It had been sitting there for eight laps," Stewart said.
A few days later, NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton disagreed and said while there may have been a water bottle, there was also a piece of aluminum that appeared to be a crushed beer can on the track – and that was the reason for the caution.
When asked about the debris on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, Stewart said he believed NASCAR's explanation.
"They picked it up; they know what it is," he said. "It looked like a bottle to me, but the end result is the same thing: It still cost us the win. No matter what it is on the racetrack, you can't have a race car hit it and then have it go in the stands and hurt somebody. You know they did what they needed to do, but you just hate the timing of it and you hate it even happened in the first place."
Stewart said he was not among those who believed the TV broadcast needed to show every piece of debris to viewers, because "I've got the trust in them that when they throw a debris caution, there's something out there."
"I think NASCAR has done a really good job in the last year or so of making sure if there's a debris caution, it's not just a mystery caution," he said. " ... They've got pretty good eyes around the racetrack to make sure there's not stuff laying out there."
Mike Ford finally returned to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, his first time back in a crew chief role since losing his job at Joe Gibbs Racing last December.
After JGR decided to fire Ford – Denny Hamlin's former crew chief – the veteran sat on the sidelines until Richard Petty Motorsports hired him this week to crew chief for Aric Almirola.
It was a surprising amount of time between jobs, since Ford had won 21 races in his career and had guided Hamlin to the Chase in each of their six seasons together – including the 2010 season, when the No. 11 team nearly won the championship.
"I'm a huge fan of Mike," Hamlin said Friday. "I can't believe it took this long for the guy to get a job. ... He, in my opinion, is one of the top five crew chiefs in the garage."
Speaking with reporters at Talladega on Friday, Ford blamed the timing of his job loss for causing the long layoff, calling it "bothersome for me."
"That is why you haven't seen me for a little bit, because there wasn't anything at that point," he said.
His chance to return finally came though on Monday when Sammy Johns, the director of operations for Richard Petty Motorsports, called Ford offering him the job to lead the No. 43 team.
Now, back in the garage for the first time since last year's season finale at Homestead, Ford is looking forward to working with Almirola, a young driver who is in the midst of his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series.
What Ford doesn't want to do is look back at the sour way his tenure at JGR came to end – particularly how one year removed from winning eight races and competing for the championship up until the very last lap of the season, he and his team weren't able to put that disappointment behind them.
"You know, I am not going to say a whole lot about that other than to say a lot of outside influence made it not fun," Ford said. "The past couple of years truly weren't that fun. It was best for both parties."
Hamlin said Ford didn't have "the cooperation of everyone" in the shop after a rough season.
"When things are good and you're winning, everyone is willing to listen to you and do what you want," the driver said. "When you're strugglng, everyone has a hard time buying into what you believe in."
Ford made it a point to state his relationship with Hamlin was still strong despite the somewhat messy breakup. The two still text, he said, and the crew chief added "I love Denny to death."
"I never had any problems with Denny and I still don't," he said. "In the organization, you see things that you need to work on, and if you are the only guy that sees them then you are the guy that is an issue."
For Ford, joining RPM represents a fresh start even if that start is coming a quarter of the way into the season. RPM – a Ford Racing-backed team, has the same cars and resources as powerhouse team Roush Fenway Racing.
"We see those guys running good each week," the crew chief said. "We aren't coming in to rebuild the organization on day one. I am looking to share some experience and slow-grow it. ... I am looking to smooth things out and progress over the next five or six weeks."
What made this opportunity so promising for Ford – and one he couldn't say no to – is the similarities he sees between Almirola and Hamlin.
"The most fun I've ever had crew chiefing was the first year and a half with Denny," Ford said. "That was a lot of fun because of the role that you play; you work together and you fed off each other. I see that here with Aric."
Kurt Busch's Talladega Nights car is the most brilliant NASCAR paint scheme in years, because it works on so many levels.
Think about it: Busch and his tiny Phoenix Racing team have an us-against-the-world mentality, just like Ricky Bobby was forced to do in the movie when he sponsored himself with the "ME" car.
Now that Busch is driving the car – at Talladega, no less – it's just an incredible fit. And here's something to think about it: What if Busch wins in the Ricky Bobby car?
"I don't want to have to get out and run to the finish line, and have to kiss a guy to do it," Busch said with a grin, referring to Ricky Bobby's lip lock with nemesis Jean Girard. "I hope we're able to do it on track."
But getting permission to bring the movie car to life was no easy task.
Busch's girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, is the head of the Armed Forces Foundation and approached team owner James Finch with an idea to run a Talladega Nights car while raising awareness for her organization, which does charitable work with armed services members suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Driscoll worked behind the scenes for two months to get approval for the car, which was far more complicated than you might imagine.
After lower-level execs at Sony Pictures rejected the idea, Driscoll pulled some strings and finally got the studio's president on the phone.
"He was like, 'Yes! This is an awesome idea. Let's do this!'" she said.
But even after Sony approved, there were still others who had to sign on. For example:
• The picture of the cougar on the car is actually "Karen," the cougar who co-starred in the movie. Because Busch's car needed to use the photo, Driscoll had to get permission from Karen's handler – and the photographer who took the picture for the hood.
• Every company whose logo appeared on the movie car had to agree not to be on the real-life version.
• Will Ferrell's people had to agree to Busch's use of the car.
And finally, Finch had to agree as well. It took until Monday to get the team owner to sign off on the idea after some initial hesitation.
Fortunately for Busch, Driscoll is not the kind of woman who takes "no" for an answer, so she kept hammering away until she heard "yes."
"He's the only owner in the garage I know with the balls to pull something off like this," Driscoll said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he finally was convinced."
Busch said there was no way he could have pulled off the paint scheme when he was at Penske Racing or Roush Fenway Racing, which is why it was so appropriate for his current team.
"That fits real close to where I'm going through in my career right now," he said.
Busch and his crew plan to drop lines from the movie over the team radio all weekend, which will include referring to crew chief Nick Harrison as "Lucius Washington." Driscoll joked about Busch's often-vitriolic radio communications by saying it was the one time where he would actually WANT fans to listen.
But the driver is unsure whether to refer to Driscoll as "Carly" (Ricky Bobby's "smokin' hot wife") or "Susan" (Ricky Bobby's loyal public relations representative who ends up with the driver in the end).
We'll let him deal with that dilemma, because the wrong answer might result in Driscoll breaking his arm on a pool table.
Ultimately, though, the whole thing is for a good cause.
"We wanted to talk about PTSD and remind people you've got soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines in your community, and don't forget about them," Driscoll said. "Look out for these people, because everybody needs your help coming back from the war."
The main challenge this NASCAR weekend at Talladega Superspeedway will be the development and placement of isolated storms across Alabama.
It will look and feel more like summer, with humid conditions and highs in the upper 80s to near 90. Weak disturbances will move across the state this weekend, and with plenty of heat and moisture in the atmosphere, they could spark some isolated-to-scattered storms in the afternoon. Although the severe weather threat is low, isolated storms that do form could be strong.
I don't anticipate any major rain delays or cancellations like we saw Thursday with the Nationwide Series practice, but a storm or two over the next three days is possible and can't be ruled out this weekend. If you are going to Talladega, prepare for the heat and steam of summer and make sure you have plenty of water. Also keep an eye to the sky and be weather alert for developing storms.
12:00 p.m. EDT
Nationwide final practice – Partly sunny, chance of isolated t'storm – temp: 80
2:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup practice – Partly sunny, chance of isolated t'storm – temp: 83
3:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup final practice – Partly sunny, chance of isolated t'storm – temp: 84
12:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup qualifying – Partly sunny, chance of thunderstorm – temp: 83
3:00 p.m. EDT
Nationwide race – Partly sunny, chance of thunderstorm – temp: 88
12:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup race – Partly sunny, chance of thunderstorm – temp: 88
Plenty of intangibles tilt in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s favor this weekend -- his history of success at Talladega Superspeedway and his father's legacy of dominating there among them.
One X-factor Earnhardt doesn't buy into -- momentum.
Earnhardt has reason for optimism heading into Sunday's Aaron's 499 (FOX, 1 p.m. ET), but it's not based around his runner-up finish last weekend at Richmond International Raceway. Instead, NASCAR's most popular driver suggests that season-to-date performance and confidence play more important roles.
"No, I don't think momentum is a real thing," Earnhardt said. "The team is confident, we're feeling good. We feel like we're competing well. Really close to winning a race. We ain't really raced for a win yet and lost one, so I wouldn't count (Richmond). But we're getting better at running in the top five and top 10s. We'll just try to keep doing that."
Being "really close" to ending a 138-race winless streak would go a long way toward appeasing a wide fan base that seems to turn its most rabid at Talladega, where Earnhardt Jr. has five of his 18 wins in the Sprint Cup Series. His most recent victory at the 2.66-mile track, however, wasn't recent at all, coming in the fall of 2004.
This season, the good has outweighed the bad. Earnhardt has a string of five straight top-10 efforts heading to Talladega and hasn't finished worse than 15th in nine races so far in 2012 -- leaving him second in the standings, five points behind series leader Greg Biffle. He was also runner-up in the season-opening Daytona 500, where the similar rules package for restrictor-plate tracks earned high marks from Earnhardt for bringing pack racing back.
"I do like having more control of my own destiny and making my own decisions for myself, looking out for number one and my team all day long, trying to do whatever I can to put myself in position to win the race," Earnhardt said. "That's really what I feel like I've been doing all my life. To do anything different doesn't feel comfortable and feels odd to me."
An Earnhardt win would also bring an end to Hendrick Motorsports' modest 15-race slump, which has prolonged the team's anticipation of a milestone 200th win in NASCAR's top series. Hendrick has 11 Talladega wins, second only to the 12 scored by Richard Childress Racing.
DANICA'S NEXT CHALLENGE: TALLADEGA
Danica Patrick's 2012 season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series has included plenty of firsts. The next "first" on the list in her first full season on the tour is her maiden voyage at Talladega Superspeedway.
Patrick's zeal for trying new things will be put to the test in Saturday's Aaron's 312 (ABC, 3 p.m. ET) at the Alabama venue. While Patrick has already developed a feel for stock cars at similar Daytona International Speedway -- where she won the pole position for the series' season opener -- she's bracing for what promises to be a wild event.
During a kickoff announcement for the Nationwide Series' Dash 4 Cash bonus program last weekend, Patrick hinted that she was in store for a different experience than what she had at Daytona. Still, she wanted confirmation from series points leader Elliott Sadler that the track was indeed wider.
"Oh yeah," Sadler replied, "Everybody feels way braver."
"So, instead of four wide without being able to see, it'll be five wide?" Patrick asked. When Sadler indicated that was the case, Patrick replied with sarcasm in hand: "Great. That's great."
While Patrick tries to gain more stock-car seat time, Sadler will look to extend his points lead over defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Only two points separate Sadler and Stenhouse, the only two-time winner in the series this season.
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