The Earnhardt name is synonymous with success at Talladega Superspeedway, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes to add a sixth victory on Sunday.
Earnhardt Jr. has done alright for himself, too, winning five Talladega Cup races in his career, including four straight from Oct. 2001 to April 2003. All told, Earnhardt Jr. has led 19 of the 21 Sprint Cup races he has entered at Talladega, running out front for a total of 672 laps.
According to NASCAR's loop data statistics, Earnhardt is ranked second in the driver rating category with a score of 93.3 in the last 11 races at Talladega. The driver rating formula combines race victories, top-15 finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, most laps led and lead-lap finishes.
And coming off a strong run at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, where he led 90 laps and finished seventh, optimism is high in the Earnhardt camp right now, perhaps higher than it’s been all year in this, his third season with Hendrick Motorsports.
“I just look forward to going back to Talladega and always enjoy racing there,” said Earnhardt. “We've always been good and fast there. I hope we can get up front, lead a lot of laps and be there at the end. I want to be in position to make a move for the win. We haven't really been in position at the end of these races like we need to, so we'll try to be a little more aggressive throughout the race and try to keep ourselves in that position.”
For Sunday’s Amp Energy Juice 500, the hood of Earnhardt's black-and-yellow No. 88 The Legend of Hallowdega AMP Energy Juice/National Guard Chevrolet will feature “The Legend of Hallowdega,” a short film directed by award-winning filmmaker Terry Gilliam that stars David Arquette and Justin Kirk. Starting Halloween night, the film will be available in its entirety on www.LegendofHallowdega.com. This is the first short film for both Gilliam and AMP Energy Juice.
Like every other driver at Talladega, Earnhardt knows the race is something of a crapshoot, with a good finish being dependent on staying out of an accident.
“Some guys just want to risk it all, go up front and run hard,” said Earnhardt. “It is a risk because you can get yourself in an accident. Some guys don't want to take that risk and know that being there at the end is the most important thing so they'll try to stay out of trouble.”
According to Earnhardt, both strategies can be made to work. And both can backfire, as well.
“It is a little tough either way,” Earnhardt said. “If they aren't up front in the pack, nobody knows really what kind of car that they have got. Then at the end of the race, if you are one of the guys running up front all day long, trying hard, then you see all these new players pop up in the last 10 or 20 laps, it sort of throws everybody off their game. Either way is a good way to go, so you just make up your mind and then do it.
“A lot of the fans probably don't like the guys that go ride in the back, but when they come up into the pack in the last 20 laps nobody really knows what kind of player they are and how strong they are. That is a good hand to hold, you know. When you haven't shown everybody all day long what kind of moves you are capable of making, you can catch people off guard. So those guys have a good hand at the end of race, too.”
For his part, Earnhardt prefers being out front, as his laps led total attests to.
“The ones that have been up front running hard, which is what I like to do, you use up a lot of race car all day long beating around bumpers real hard, and you use up your car pretty good and you use up your engine,” he said. “And you've shown everybody what you are capable of doing and the people can use that against you. It is a tough call what to do.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.