Talladega: Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally break 10-year winless streak at the track he used to dominate?

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As hard as it may seem to believe, it’s been nearly 10 years since Dale Earnhardt Jr., last won a race at Talladega Superspeedway.

That’s 10 years at a track where Junior once dominated so much that many of his fans started calling NASCAR’s largest oval “The House that Junior Built” (even though his father won 10 times there in his own career).

The younger Earnhardt won five of his first 10 starts at the massive and sprawling 2.66-mile layout at Talladega, including four wins in a row (fall 2001 through spring 2003, as well as fall 2004).

Junior was essentially the Jimmie Johnson of his day in the way he dominated at Talladega. It wasn’t just a track, it was HIS track.

It got to the point where the majority of fans that attended every Cup race there were decked out in some kind of red-and-white Junior regalia, be it a ball cap, t-shirt, jacket or similar, all proudly touting the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet and the team he drove for, Dale Earnhardt Inc.

While toasting him with a Budweiser, of course!

But since his last win there in 2004, it seems like good fortune has turned its back on Junior.

In the 18 races since then, Earnhardt has managed just three top-five finishes (including two runner-ups) and two other top-10 showings.

That’s it.

In the 13 other starts he finished 20th or worst eight times, including recording four of his five career DNFs there.

What’s happened to Junior? Why can’t he go back to the way he used to be at ‘Dega, without question the most dominating driver there from 2001 through 2005 and when the now-defunct DEI was the crème de la crème of restrictor plate racing.

But it wasn’t all about Junior, either, at DEI.

During that same five-year period, Michael Waltrip earned all four of his career Cup wins (in 775 career starts). Three came at Daytona (including two in the Daytona 500 – with his first coming in the tragic 2001 race in which Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed in a last-lap crash while trying to protect Waltrip’s and Junior’s 1-2 finish) and the other win occurred at Talladega.

The common denominator between Waltrip and Junior: 11 of their 12 combined wins came on plate tracks while both drove for DEI – and those 11 wins came in a span of four seasons (2001-04).

Add in the winless-yet-still-productive 2005 season and the former teammates also combined for five runner-up finishes and four third-place showings in those five seasons, for a total of 20 races between them.

All-told, Junior has eight wins on plate tracks, five at Talladega and three at Daytona.

So why has Junior struggled at plate tracks since moving from DEI to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008? How is it that he’s managed just one plate track win (this year’s season-opening Daytona 500) since 2004?

Or, looking at the glass half-full, with his win at Daytona two months ago, is Junior poised to go off on another DEI-like plate track winning run with another triumph this Sunday in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega?

If he were to do so, it would make Junior the second driver (Joey Logano did so with his second win of 2014 this past Saturday at Richmond) to cement his entry into this year’s expanded and revised Chase for the Sprint Cup.

When Junior moved to HMS, predictions and expectations were both high. He had uncanny resources and something that he never had at DEI: an organization with a history of Cup championships.

At the time Junior changed his Cup address, HMS had seven championships to its credit. Today, it has 11.

If Earnhardt were to win Sunday’s race, he may finally be able to finish what he started way back in 2001 when he won his first plate race: win again at ‘Dega and end the season with his first Cup championship, as well.

He’s long overdue for both.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Supercross: Tomac, Roczen square off in Arlington; Webb gives chase

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The Monster Energy Supercross championship battle remains tight after Eli Tomac took the lead from Ken Roczen just last week at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Now the series heads to Arlington, Texas, and the AT&T Stadium for Round 8. (Watch on NBCSN or stream live.)

Tomac’s third win of the 2020 season and Roczen’s third-place finish at Tampa gives Tomac a four-point advantage in what is essentially a wide-open title fight with three races on tap in Arlington.

And while it is still much too early to call this a two-man battle, Cooper Webb is 11 points back with Justin Barcia 20 points out and Adam Cianciarulo 27 points in arrears – and all three cannot afford to lose any ground this week.

Tomac has the momentum. He allowed the field to get a jump after finishing seventh at Anaheim in the season opener, but finished fourth or better in the remaining events.

Roczen also got off to a slow start in Anaheim 1 with a sixth-place finish. He seemed to have a firm grasp on the red plate with four consecutive podium finishes until he slipped to sixth for a second time at San Diego.

Webb is coming into his own with three consecutive podiums in the last three events. If not for a 12th at St. Louis, he would be in immediate contention for the red plate.

This week is the second Triple Crown race of the season and Roczen hopes he has the same success as he did at Glendale. He won all three Mains that weekend and easily walked away with the overall victory. Tomac finished 2-2-3 for second overall. It is going to be imperative that a rider takes the early lead.

Blake Baggett qualified for last week’s Main, but chose to sit it out after experiencing sever muscle spasms. He will ride in Arlington.

Henry Miller will return to riding at Arlington after breaking a scapula in Australia.

Subscribe to the Supercross Pass for complete qualification and race coverage of the 2020 season.

For the third time in his career, Shane McElrath started the season with a victory. He won the season-opener in 2017 and 2018 in the West division at Anaheim, but failed to lock down a 250 title. His seventh career win moved him to 25th on the chart, however, with Travis Pastrana, Trey Canard, and a host of others.

Chase Sexton got his title hunt off to a strong start last week as well. He finished second to earn his 10th podium in 19 starts, but he will be hungry for a win. Despite the fact that he won last year’s 250 West championship, he has only one race victory to his credit.

Last week, Jeremy Martin looked like he had not been off his bike for more than a year. Returning from a 2018 injury, Martin snagged a podium finish in his first race back.

Schedule:

Qualifying: 1 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold
Race: 8:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSN

Last Week:

Eli Tomac beat Cooper Webb and Ken Roczen in the 450 class.
Shane McElrath beat Chase Sexton and Jeremy Martin in the 250 class.

Last Dallas race (February, 2019):

Cooper Webb beat Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin in the 450 class.
Austin Forkner beat Justin Cooper and Chase Sexton in the 250 class.

Points Leaders

450s:
Eli Tomac (155)
Ken Roczen (151)
Cooper Webb (144)
Justin Barcia (135)
Adam Cianciarulo (128)

250 West:
Dylan Ferrandis (135)
Justin Cooper (128)
Austin Forkner (122)
Brandon Hartranft (110)
Alex Martin (98)

250 East:
Shane McElrath (26)
Chase Sexton (23)
Jeremy Martin (21)
Garrett Marchbanks (19)
Jordon Smith (18)

Wins

450

(3) Eli Tomac (Anaheim 2, Oakland and Tampa)
(2) Ken Roczen (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Barcia (Anaheim 1)
(1) Cooper Webb (San Diego)

250 West

(3) Dylan Ferrandis (Anaheim 2, Oakland, and San Diego)
(2) Austin Forkner (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Cooper (Anaheim 1)

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath (Tampa)

Top-5s

450

(6) Eli Tomac
(6) Cooper Webb
(5) Jason Anderson
(5) Ken Roczen
(5) Justin Barcia
(3) Adam Cianciarulo
(2) Zach Osborne
(2) Blake Baggett
(1) Justin Hill

250 West

(5) Dylan Ferrandis
(5) Austin Forkner
(5) Justin Cooper
(4) Michael Mosiman
(4) Brandon Hartranft
(3) Alex Martin
(1) Christian Craig
(1) Jett Lawrence
(1) Jacob Hayes
(1) Luke Clout

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath
(1) Chase Sexton
(1) Jeremy Martin
(1) Garrett Marchbanks
(1) Jordon Smith

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