It’s been 10 years since Dale Jr. won Talladega, and he needs one now (VIDEO)

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Ten years ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the October race at Talladega. No real surprise at the time, mind you, because he’d won four straight Talladegas from 2001 to 2003, then finished second in the next two before returning to victory lane for the fifth time in October 2004.

The place Dale Jr. once owned now is his last stand to make the Chase in 2014.

Talladega, surprisingly, has been a challenging track for Dale Jr. since his last win those 10 years ago. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he has only three top-five finishes (second in spring 2009, fourth in spring 2011 and second this race last year), while posting four finishes of 25th or worse in the same time frame.

He needs a win to advance, unless the drivers in front of him in points have issues to set them back.

Still, whether he advances or not won’t change what’s been a refreshing season overall for Jr. and the 88 team.

My colleague Jerry Bonkowski touched on this in the immediate aftermath of the Charlotte race last Saturday night, but what had been the “dream season” for Dale Jr. and the 88 crew is one race away from ending up no different than any other of Jr.’s seasons, dating to his rookie year in 2000: without a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. So he’s used to that.

In a longer form piece for NBC’s SportsWorld by Joe Posnanski, he writes of a happier, more at piece Junior, now 40, and content with his circumstances. Older, wiser, yet driving better than he has in years, Junior isn’t at a make-or-break situation if he fails to win Sunday and thus, likely, fails to advance through to the Eliminator round of the new Chase format.

A win would be clutch, but it isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all for his 2014 season. But a win would tie a nice bow on the ten-year mark since his last Talladega win in a season that’s featured so many dream moments.

Indy 500 qualifying: Today’s schedule, TV times, how the 33-car field is set

Indy 500 qualifying schedule
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The 33-car field of the 104th Indianapolis 500 will be set through the two-day Indy 500 qualifying schedule Saturday and Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Today’s session will determine the nine cars that will compete for the pole position and starting positions 10-30.

On Sunday, the pole position then will be determined in a Fast Nine Shootout (the top nine qualifiers also received NTT IndyCar Series points).

All on-track activity will be on NBC Sports Gold’s IndyCar pass (click here for streaming Saturday and here for Sunday), and Indy 500 qualifying will be on NBC from 3-5 p.m. ET Saturday and Indy 500 pole qualifying from 1-3 p.m. ET on NBC.

Last year, Simon Pagenaud captured the pole position on the way to winning last year’s Indy 500.

Qualifying speeds at Indianapolis Motor Speedway are determined by a four-lap average around the 2.5-mile track.

Here is the Indy 500 qualifying schedule and how to watch on TV:

Saturday, Aug. 15

5:30 a.m. – Garage opens

6 a.m. – Tech inspection

8:30-9:30 a.m. – Indianapolis 500 practice (NBC Sports Gold)

11 a.m.-5 p.m. – Indianapolis 500 qualifying (NBC Sports Gold; NBC coverage from 3-5 p.m.; NBCSN 5-6 p.m.)

7:30 p.m. – Garage closes

Sunday, Aug. 16

8 a.m. – Garage opens

9 a.m. — Tech inspection

11-11:30 a.m. – Indianapolis 500 practice (NBC Sports Gold)

1:15-2:15 p.m. – Fast Nine pole qualifying (NBC begins at 1 p.m., NBC Sports Gold)

3:30-6 p.m. – Indianapolis 500 practice (NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold)