Everything you need to know about Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega

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After an exciting race at one of NASCAR’s shortest tracks, the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway, the Sprint Cup Series moves to the longest (2.66 miles) and one of the fastest tracks on the circuit for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Will Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. make it two wins in a row on a restrictor plate track? Junior has five career wins at Talladega, but he hasn’t won there since fall 2004. Will his 10-year drought there come to an end? If he does manage to win Sunday, Junior would all but guarantee being locked into this year’s expanded Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Jeff Gordon is the winningest active driver at Talladega with six wins, but it’s also been a long time since he’s reached victory lane there (fall 2007).

Will an unexpected driver emerge from the pack on the final lap to collect the checkered flag, much like defending winner David Ragan did in this weekend’s race last year?

How will rookies like Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon fare?

There are so many storylines to consider for Sunday’s race, but a few things are for sure: it’s ‘Dega, it’s fast, it’s always exciting and there’s always the possibility of at least one “big one” multi-car wreck.

Here’s  look at some of the top statistical performers coming into Sunday’s race, as well as some of the track’s past history:

 
TALLADEGA-SPECIFIC STATISTICS
Aric Almirola (No. 43 Gwaltney Ford)
·         One top 10
·         Average finish of 19.9
·         Average Running Position of 17.8, 12th-best
·         Driver Rating of 83.7, 10th-best
Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
·         Six top fives, 13 top 10s
·         Average finish of 16.7
·         Average Running Position of 14.9, fifth-best
·         Driver Rating of 87.4, fifth-best
·         6,599 Green Flag Passes, third-most
·         2,144 Laps in the Top 15 (62.6%), second-most
·         4,529 Quality Passes, second-most
Austin Dillon (No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet)
·         Average finish of 26.0
·         Series-best Average Running Position of 11.5
·         Driver Rating of 81.5, 12th-best
·         Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 193.265 mph
 
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet)
·         Five wins, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s
·         Average finish of 14.6
·         Average Running Position of 14.6, fourth-best
·         Driver Rating of 91.5, third-best
·         75 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
·         6,044 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.083 mph, third-fastest
·         2,078 Laps in the Top 15 (60.7%), third-most
·         4,009 Quality Passes, fourth-most
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s/Valspar Reserve Chevrolet)
·         Two wins, six top fives, 10 top 10s; one pole
·         Average finish of 17.0
·         Average Running Position of 16.9, eighth-best
·         Driver Rating of 85.1, seventh-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 192.872 mph, 12th-fastest
·         1,757 Laps in the Top 15 (51.3%), fifth-most
·         3,436 Quality Passes, fifth-most
Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota)
·         One win, five top fives, nine top 10s
·         Average finish of 17.7
·         Average Running Position of 13.9, third-best
·         Driver Rating of 91.6, second-best
·         63 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most
·         5,791 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
·         Series-high 2,239 Laps in the Top 15 (65.4%)
·         4,275 Quality Passes, third-most
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford)
·         Two wins, three top fives, six top 10s
·         Average finish of 14.2
·         Driver Rating of 84.4, eighth-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 192.936 mph, ninth-fastest
 
Jamie McMurray (No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet)
·         Two wins, six top fives, seven top 10s
·         Average finish of 19.3
·         Driver Rating of 83.3, 11th-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.035 mph, seventh-fastest
·         1,692 Laps in the Top 15 (49.4%), sixth-most
·         3,307 Quality Passes, eighth-most
David Ragan (No. 34 KFC Ford)
·         One win, four top fives, seven top 10s
·         Average finish of 14.2
·         Driver Rating of 84.2, ninth-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.080 mph, fourth-fastest
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Zest Ford)
·         One top five, one top 10
·         Average finish of 8.0
·         Average Running Position of 12.5, second-best
·         Series-best Driver Rating of 94.7
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.253 mph, second-fastest
Brian Vickers (No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota)
·         One win, four top fives, six top 10s
·         Average finish of 20.1
·         Average Running Position of 17.0, ninth-best
·         Driver Rating of 87.3, sixth-best
 

Talladega Superspeedway Data

Season Race #: 10 of 36 (05-04-14)
Track Size: 2.66-miles
Banking/Turn 1 & 2: 33 degrees
Banking/Turn 3 & 4: 33 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 16.5 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 2 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 4,300 feet
Backstretch Length: 4,000 feet
Race Length: 188 laps / 500 miles
Top 10 Driver Ratings at Talladega
Ricky Stenhouse Jr………………… 94.7
Matt Kenseth………………………… 91.6
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 91.5
Kurt Busch……………………………. 87.4
Brian Vickers………………………… 87.3
Jimmie Johnson…………………….. 85.1
Brad Keselowski……………………. 84.4
David Ragan…………………………. 84.2
Aric Almirola…………………………. 87.3
Jamie McMurray…………………….. 83.3
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (18 total) among active drivers at Talladega Superspeedway.
Qualifying/Race Data
2013 pole winner:
None – due to inclement weather
 
2013 race winner:
David Ragan, Ford
148.729 mph, (03:26:02), 05-05-13
 
Track qualifying record:
Bill Elliott, Ford
212.809 mph, 44.998 secs. 04-30-87
 
Track race record:
Mark Martin, Ford
188.354 mph, (02:39:18), 05-10-97
TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY:
History
·         Construction began on what was then known as the Alabama International Motor Speedway on May 23, 1968.
·         The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held on Sept. 14, 1969 – won by Richard Brickhouse.
·         The name changed to Talladega Superspeedway in 1989.
·         Fourth repaving completed on Sept. 19, 2006.
Notebook
·         There have been 89 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega Superspeedway, one NSCS event in 1969 and two races per year since 1970.
·         Talladega Superspeedway is tied with Michigan International Speedway for holding the ninth most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points paying races (89).  
·         433 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega; 297 in more than one.
·         Dave Marcis leads the series in starts at Talladega with 61. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 42 starts; followed by Joe Nemechek with 38.
·         Bobby Isaac won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Talladega in 1969 with a speed of 199.466 mph. Isaac won the first three poles at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
·         36 drivers have Coors Light poles at Talladega, led by Bill Elliott with eight. Joe Nemechek leads all active drivers with four.
·         10 drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Talladega. Bill Elliott holds the record for most consecutive poles at Talladega with six (1985 – 1987).
·         Youngest Talladega pole winner: Jimmie Johnson (04/21/2002 – 26 years, 7 months, 4 days).
·         Oldest Talladega pole winner: Mark Martin (10/23/2012 – 52 years, 9 months, 14 days).
·         43 different drivers have won at Talladega Superspeedway, led by Dale Earnhardt with 10. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six.
·         Richard Childress Racing has the most wins at Talladega in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 12; followed byHendrick Motorsports with 11.
·         Nine different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Talladega; led by Chevrolet with 38 victories; followed byFord with 21.
·         13 of the 89 (14.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from the Coors Light pole.Jeff Gordon (2007) is the only active driver to be able to accomplish the feat. 
·         The outside front row (second-place) starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (20) than any other starting position at Talladega. 
·         33 of the 89 (37%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from the front row: 13 from the pole and 20 from second-place.
·         62 of the 89 (69.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Talladega have been won from a top-10 starting position.
·         7 of the 89 (7.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
·         The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Talladega was 36th, by Jeff Gordon in the spring of 2000.
·         Youngest Talladega winner: Bobby Hillin Jr. (07/27/1986 – 22 years, 1 month, 22 days).
·         Oldest Talladega winner: Harry Gant (05/06/1991 – 51 years, 3 months, 26 days).
·         Buddy Baker and Tony Stewart are tied for theseries’ most runner-up finishes at Talladega with six each.
·         NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-five finishes at Talladega with 23. Jeff Gordonleads all active drivers with 15. 
·         Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-10 finishes at Talladega with 27. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19.
·         Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Talladega with a 10.125.
·         Brad Keselowski leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Talladega with a 14.200.
·         There have been seven NSCS races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Talladega Superspeedway: spring of 2005 (188/194), fall of 2005 (188/190), spring of 2007 (188/192), fall of 2008 (188/190) spring of 2010 (188/200), fall of 2012 (188/189) and spring of 2013 (188/192).
·         Only two of the 89 races at Talladega Superspeedway have been shortened due to weather conditions: spring of 1987 and fall of 1996.
·         Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway five times; most recently fall of 2013. 
·         Jamie McMurray (10/06/2002) made his series debut at Talladega Superspeedway.
·         David Gilliland (10/08/2006) and Travis Kvapil (10/05/2008) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Talladega.   
·         2012 series champion Brad Keselowski (04/26/2009) and Brian Vickers (10/08/2006) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Talladega.   
·         Nine drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have posted consecutive wins at Talladega Dale Earnhardt Jr.leads the series in consecutive wins at Talladega after posting four straight from the fall of 2001 – 2003.  
·         11 of the 12 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Talladega Superspeedway participated in at least one or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Brad Keselowski is the only active series driver to winat Talladega in his first appearance.   
·         Matt Kenseth competed at Talladega Superspeedway 25 times before winning the fall of 2012; the longest span of any the 12 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
·         Matt Kenseth (25), Tony Stewart (19), Kevin Harvick (18), and David Ragan (12) all made 10 or more attempts before their first win at Talladega.
·         Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Talladega without visiting Victory Lane at 38.
·         Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway was the (04/17/2011) race won by Jimmie Johnson with a MOV of 0.002 second – the MOV is tied with the 2003 Darlington race as the closest finishes in the NSCS using electronic scoring. 
·         Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Talladega with 843 laps led in 42 starts.
·         Three female drivers have competed at Talladega in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie, Patty Moiseand Danica Patrick.
Driver
Starting Position
Finishing Position
Date
Race Name
Janet Guthrie
13
32
5/1/1977
Winston 500
Janet Guthrie
9
34
8/7/1977
Talladega 500
Janet Guthrie
12
29
8/6/1978
Talladega 500
Patty Moise
36
33
7/30/1989
Talladega Diehard 500
Danica Patrick
23
33
5/5/2013
Aaron’s 499
Danica Patrick
23
33
10/20/2013
Camping World RV Sales 500
NASCAR in Alabama
·         There have been 108 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among seven different tracks in Alabama.
Track Name
City
NSCS
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega
89
Birmingham International Raceway
Birmingham
8
Montgomery Motor Speedway
Montgomery
6
Lakeview Speedway
Mobile
2
Chisholm Speedway
Montgomery
1
Dixie Speedway
Birmingham
1
Huntsville Speedway
Huntsville
1
·         68 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Alabama.
·         Nine drivers from Alabama have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series; five have won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Driver
NSCS
NNS
NCWTS
Bobby Allison
84
2
0
Davey Allison
19
0
0
Neil Bonnett
18
1
0
Donnie Allison
10
0
0
Red Byron
2
0
0
Rick Crawford
0
0
5
Steve Grissom
0
11
0
Cale Gale
0
0
1
Darrell Wallace Jr
0
0
1

 

Vettel, Ferrari strke back to dominate final Australia F1 practice

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Sebastian Vettel made up for a disappointing Friday by dominating proceedings in the final Formula 1 practice session ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix for Ferrari.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites for victory following an impressive pre-season that saw Ferrari finish as the fastest team, concerning defending champion outfit Mercedes.

Ferrari’s winter pace was nowhere to be found during FP1 and FP2 on Friday in Melbourne, though, as Lewis Hamilton moved half a second clear at the front of the pack for Mercedes.

Both Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen insisted they had more pace in hand for qualifying and the race, and both drivers were able to display that in FP3 as times tumbled.

Vettel ran high up the order early on before turning in a lap of 1:23.380, marking the fastest time of the weekend so far, 0.240 seconds faster than Hamilton’s benchmark from Friday.

Both Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas fitted a set of ultra-soft tires in a bid to try and catch Vettel at the top, yet neither could get close.

Bottas finished the session P2, 0.479 seconds shy of Vettel’s time, while Hamilton was a further 0.011 seconds back in third place, leaving Mercedes’ advantage looking precarious ahead of qualifying.

Mercedes was unable to put together a late ultra-soft run after the session was red flagged with 10 minutes to go following a crash for Lance Stroll.

Stroll lost the rear-end of his Williams FW40 coming through the end of the second sector, damaging the right-hand side of his car and bringing his session to a premature end.

The session was otherwise devoid of major incident, the other stoppage coming courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen, although the Finn was able to get his car back going swiftly.

Raikkonen ended the session fourth-fastest in the second Ferrari, six-tenths off Vettel at the top, while Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top five.

Red Bull struggled for pace throughout the session, with Daniel Ricciardo finising up sixth ahead of Haas’ Romain Grosjean and the Toro Rosso pair of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10.

Sauber’s Wehrlein rules himself out, Giovinazzi to sub at Australian GP

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After Friday’s practice sessions and after having been originally cleared to race for the Australian Grand Prix, it has been determined that Sauber F1 Team’s Pascal Wehrlein will not be able to continue in the rest of the weekend. He opted to rule himself out due to his fitness level.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team,” Wehrlein said in a release.

Wehrlein missed the opening test at Barcelona before resuming for the second test. He’d had a back injury sustained in an accident at the Race of Champions event in Miami in January.

As for that opening test, Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian Ferrari reserve driver, will fill in for the German. This was meant to be Wehrlein’s first race with Sauber; instead, it will be Giovinazzi’s Grand Prix debut.

“We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned,” team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added.

This isn’t the first injury fill-in to race in F1 in recent years; twice, Fernando Alonso has missed a race each of the last two years.

After a testing crash at Barcelona in 2015, Kevin Magnussen filled in in Alonso’s McLaren Honda, although was unable to start the race with a mechanical before the lights even went out. Meanwhile Alonso missed last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix after his accident at Melbourne, which opened the door for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his debut, and the Belgian promptly scored a point.

Giovinazzi has no prior experience at the Albert Park circuit and so will have to learn the track during FP3, which runs at 11 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports App. Qualifying takes place at 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Here’s pics and notes from NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, who is on the ground in Melbourne:

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.