Will Dale Jr. plus Talladega be a winning equation?Danica's next challenge: Talladega
By: NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
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.