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Not All Say This Is Earnhardt Jr.’s Weekend To Win

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 4 2012

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson have worked well together at Talladega during recent races. Is this Junior's weekend? (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Conventional wisdom would indicate Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway is the perfect weekend for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to snap a 138-race winless streak.

But his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, takes a different stance on the driver who has scored five of his 18 career wins at the 2.66-mile trioval.

“I think (Earnhardt’s) best chance to win is on non-(restrictor) plate tracks, to be honest with you,” Johnson said. “Here, there are so many circumstances to deal with. You don’t know if you’re going to overheat, if you get a push at the right time or whatever it may be.

“What I have seen out of him and if you just look at this year alone, where he is in points, how fast his cars have been and how great he’s been driving, I’d put this low on the list of where I’d expect him to win.”

Count Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth among the favorites to win on Sunday.

The Ford Kenseth wheeled to victory in the biggest race of the season is sitting in the Daytona 500

Matt Kenseth won the first restrictor plate race this season. He will have a different car for the second. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Experience museum.

But the 2003 Sprint Cup champion still expects his team to unload a very fast Ford here this weekend.

“This is probably the most I have ever looked forward to coming to Talladega,” Kenseth said. “Obviously, we liked the rules package in Daytona and made it work pretty good company-wide with (Roush Fenway Racing teammate) Greg (Biffle) and Carl (Edwards) on the front row. And our car seemed real fast in the race.

“Anything can happen here, so who knows? You can get wrecked on lap one and you never know. But knowing that our cars were fast at Daytona, it makes you look forward to coming here a little bit more.”

Best-known for guiding Denny Hamlin to 17 Sprint Cup victories, Mike Ford met the media on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway to discuss his role as the new crew chief for Richard Petty Motorsports and driver Aric Almirola.

Despite leading Hamlin to six consecutive appearances in the Chase, Ford was dismissed from Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2011 season.

Ford blamed his departure from JGR on “outside influences” but said he remains friends with the driver of the No. 11 Toyota.

“Let me get something real clear. Me and Denny still get a long,” Ford said. “I text back-and-forth with him periodically. I love Denny to death. This is business. And I never had any qualms with Denny. I still don’t.

“It was time to go. It was time to move on. I still have a lot of good friends over there. It’s life. You move on and continue.”

Two females will be among the 43 competitors in Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312.

Johanna Long will be in Saturday's Nationwide Race. (File photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

While Danica Patrick draws the headlines, the other lady driver in the field continues to build a fan base via the grassroots method.

Johanna Long, a 19-year-old from Pensacola, Fla., scored the biggest victory in her career when she captured the Snowball Derby Late Model race in her hometown a couple of years ago. She remains a popular figure at Late Model tracks throughout the southeast.

Long, who will make her sixth career start in NASCAR’s junior circuit on this weekend, was relatively unnoticed by fans seeking autographs as she walked through the garage on Friday.

Patrick, on the other hand, was swarmed by handlers, media and fans as she made the short walk from her team hauler to her garage stall and J.R. Motorsports Chevrolet.

“I haven’t really met her,” said Long, when asked about her relationship with Patrick. “I’ve seen her around driver intros and stuff like that.

“We see each other but we haven’t really spoken.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 4 2012
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