Junior Still Bigger Than The Big One At Talladega
By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Each time the gates swing open at Talladega Superspeedway in east central Alabama, there’s little doubt who the fans that pack this mammoth track will be rooting for on race days.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been mired in a slump for the past seven years when it comes to churning our wins. But that fact seems to matter little to the contingent of Earnhardt supporters who migrate to this tiny town each May and October.
“As soon as the race starts here, when you are on the starting line out there and before you even get in the car, the first thing you’re thinking about is how fast you can get to the lead because you know a lot of people want to see you leading the race,” Earnhardt said.
“And they come here to the cheer that specific moment and, hopefully, see you go to Victory Lane. You just want to produce as soon as you can.”
At this event in 2000, Earnhardt’s father, the late Dale Earnhardt, made a charge from deep in the field over the final four laps to surge into the lead and went on to notch an improbable victory.
The overflow crowd thundered its approval that afternoon as the famous black No. 3 Chevrolet sliced through the field.
Earnhardt Jr. has experienced similar moments at the 2.66-mile facility.
The third generation driver says he can’t always hear his fans during the heat of battle in Alabama. But he certainly notices them as he whistles by at 200 mph.
“Sometimes you swear you can hear them, but most of the time you can’t,” he said. “But you can definitely see it.
“You can definitely see lap after lap them going by the grandstand and seeing them sitting down. When you come by and they are standing up, it’s obvious. And you see the arms in the air and all that stuff.”
Chase for the Sprint Cup points leader Matt Kenseth is the defending champion of Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500.
But in an odd twist of fate, Kenseth talked Friday as if he’d rather fast forward to next week’s event in Martinsville, Va. and bypass Sunday’s wildcard race in Talladega.
“We had a really good run going in the spring at Martinsville,” said Kenseth, who for years has been open to share his dislike for the paper-clip short track in Virginia. “I think we led more laps in the spring than I led in my whole career (at Martinsville) up to that point.
“I’m looking forward to going to Martinsville and looking forward to the challenge. It’s been a fun year because they (Joe Gibbs Racing) have made me a lot better at tracks we usually don’t run good at.
“Hopefully, Martinsville will be one of those.”
For the second time in his career, Kurt Busch will sport a paint scheme from the movie Talladega Nights in a NASCAR race.
The former Cup champ’s No. 78 Chevrolet will feature a primary white look that is adorned by Wonder Bread decals.
“It will be fun,” Busch said on Friday. “But I wish we could’ve won earlier in the year, which would have meant the Furniture Row Chevrolet could have gone to Victory Lane.
“We have to thank (team owner) Barney Visser for allowing all this to happen.”
Though he had sponsorship offers from other companies, Visser had been steadfast in leaving his organization, Furniture Row, on the quarterpanels and hood of the Chevrolet piloted by Busch.
But Visser had a change of heart when the Wonder Bread opportunity came along.
“I think with the bills adding up this year with the Generation-6 car, (Visser) came in over budget, plus he never said no to any test session,” Busch said.
“In my mind, this is an advertising campaign that is worth a certain value. If you want to advertise with a Cup team, the money is at least a half million dollars when you do it this day and age.
“So that is a significant amount of money, but it’s also going to be a significant amount of exposure for Wonder Bread this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.”
NASCAR released the 2014 Nationwide Series schedule on Friday.
It is nearly identical to this year’s slate of events for NASCAR’s junior circuit.
Changes include Darlington Raceway’s event in May moving to April, the first Iowa Speedway race shifting from June to May and Texas Motor Speedway’s spring date occurring one week earlier on the calendar in April.
The season will open on Saturday February 22 at Daytona International Speedway.
– Jeff Hood can be reached at email@example.com Comments