Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has declared "Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day" across the state on Sunday, and fittingly Earnhardt will lead the field to the green flag in the Alabama 500 after winning the pole in qualifying Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.
The pole was Earnhardt’s first at Talladega and comes in what is likely his final start at the 2.6-mile track where he’s won six times and routinely is in contention in front of a fervent fan base. NASCAR’s 14-time most popular announced in April he would retire at the end of the current season, which after this weekend has just five races remaining.
Earnhardt is seeking his first win of the 2017 season and to snap a winless stretch that extends to November 2015. His previous Talladega win occurred May 2015.
NBC will air the race, with the network’s coverage beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET and the green flag waving at 2:20 p.m. Rick Allen will handle play-by-play duties and be joined in the broadcast booth by analysts Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte booth. Online streaming is available through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.
The complete Alabama 500 starting lineup is below.
Talladega starting lineup
|1||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||Chevrolet||190.544|
|5||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||Ford||190.17|
|21||Martin Truex, Jr.||Toyota||188.548|
Scary Talladega looms as ominous hurdle in NASCAR playoffs
It is the playoff race drivers and crew chiefs view with a mix of apprehension and foreboding. The one race they feel like their championship fate is not dictated by their own doing, but at the mercy of those around them and beyond circumstances they have no control over.
Every year since the Cup Series went to a knockout playoff format in 2014, Talladega Superspeedway has been the race that has surprisingly and with unmerciful cruelty dashed championship hopes of expected title contenders. From Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch the first year under the new structure, to Earnhardt again the next year, to Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski last year, the restrictor-plate track doesn’t discriminate when it comes to inflicting heartbreak.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t lacking motivation to win in final Talladega start
“People want to see [this team] go to the front,” Earnhardt said. “Our fans want to see us take the lead as fast as we can possibly take it. They want to see us in the lead every lap. And I can see in the grandstands the reaction when we have taken the lead and come around Turn 4 on the front straightaway.
“I know that’s there, and that pushes me all day at these plate tracks to do as much as I can to get into the lead and stay there.”