What to Watch For: Talladega

One More Time at Talladega for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Sunday will be Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s final trip to Talladega as a full-time driver (he's left the door open to run more races, but not a full-time schedule). Earnhardt is a 6-time Talladega winner, trailing just his father on the all-time list, and is one of the greatest restrictor plate racers.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Restrictor-Plate Racing Notes
- 6 Talladega wins (t-2nd all-time); trails only Dale Earnhardt (10)
- 9 restrictor-plate race wins (3rd all-time); trails Jeff Gordon (12) and Dale Earnhardt (11)
- 1,562 laps led in plate races; 3rd-all-time (960 at Talladega, also 3rd all-time)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn't won since the next-to-last race of the 2015 season. He enters Talladega on a 49-race winless streak. The last time he had a winless streak this long, it was snapped at another restrictor-plate track, Daytona.

Despite Dale Junior being a 6-time Talladega winner, most of his success at the track came in a 7-race span from 2001-04, when he won 5 times, and finished 2nd in the other 2. In his last 24 races at the track, he's won just once at Talladega, the spring race in 2015.

Prepare for a Wild One at Dega

Earlier this season at Talladega, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed Kyle Busch on the final lap and won by less than a tenth of second. It was the first career victory for Stenhouse. Close, exciting, and sometimes controversial finishes have been the norm at Talladega.

InPlay - Talla-Drama

• In May, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed Kyle Busch on the final lap to pick up his first career win in his 158th career start.
• In the 2015 Playoff race, the caution came out on the overtime finish after Kevin Harvick was alleged to intentionally cause a wreck to protect his Playoff position. After video review, Joey Logano was ruled to win over Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was eliminated from the Playoff.
• In the 2014 Playoff race, Brad Keselowski needed a win to move on, and that's exactly what he got, passing Ryan Newman on the final lap to win...
• May 2013, David Ragan and David Gilliland came out of nowhere on the final lap to give Front Row Motorsports its first Cup win...
• In the 2012 Playoff race, Matt Kenseth passed Tony Stewart on the final lap as Stewart's block triggered a 25-car wreck...
• In April 2011, Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer by 2-thousandths of a second in a thrilling, 4-wide finish...
• In 2010, Kevin Harvick was involved in a pair of last-lap passes at Talladega, beating Jamie McMurray in the spring race and finishing 2nd to Bowyer in October...
• In April 2009, Carl Edwards went airborne after getting clipped trying to block Brad Keselowski. Keselowski won, the final lap being his first career lap led...
• And in October 2008, it looked like Regan Smith picked up his first Cup win, but he was ruled to have gone illegally under the yellow line, giving the win to Tony Stewart.

May 2017: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passes Kyle Busch on last lap for 1st career win
October 2015: Logano win; Earnhardt Jr. eliminated after controversial wreck
October 2014: Brad Keselowski moves on in Playoff with win
May 2013: David Ragan gets Front Row Motorsports 1st MENCS win
October 2012: Matt Kenseth makes last-lap pass; 25-car wreck on final lap
April 2011: Jimmie Johnson beats Clint Bowyer by .002 sec
2010: Kevin Harvick wins and loses on 2 last-lap passes
April 2009: Brad Keselowski's 1st lap led is final lap; Edwards sails into catchfence
October 2008: Tony Stewart wins after Regan Smith is black flagged

Last year was relatively tame at Talladega, but the year before that, there was a 12-car, last-lap wreck as Joey Logano was ruled to have edged Dale Earnhardt Jr. following a video review. In 6 of the last 10 playoff races at Talladega, there's been a wreck involving double-digit cars at the track. Those were headlined by a 25-car, last-lap wreck in 2012.

Can Stenhouse Make it 3 Straight?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters Talladega last among the 12 drivers still alive for a championship, but he won at Talladega earlier this season, and then won the July Daytona race as well.

Since restrictor plates began to be used at Daytona and Talladega in 1988, only one driver has won 3 straight plate races, Dale Earnhardt in 1990. That season started for Dale Senior with a last-lap blown tire in the Daytona 500 which sent him from the lead to a 5th-place finish. Then he won the next 3 plate races en route to a championship.

This is the 9th time in the playoff era that a driver enters the Talladega playoff race after winning 2 of the 1st 3 plate races that season. Although a couple drivers finished runner-up in the Talladega race, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a controversial 2015 finish, nobody has equaled Dale Senior's feat.

Truex's Dominance Continues

Martin Truex Jr. led 91 laps last week at Charlotte and picked up his series-leading 6th win of the season. He could become the 3rd different driver to lead 2,000 laps in a season since the playoff era started in 2004.

Truex can now put himself on a pretty elite list. Only 2 drivers since 2000, and 5 different drivers since 1990, have led at least 2,000 laps and won 6 times in a season. Although putting up those numbers in a season doesn't mean a championship is certain.

Time for Chase Elliott to Win One?

Chase Elliott finished 2nd at Charlotte, his 3rd runner-up finish in 4 races in this year's playoffs. That's 6 career 2nd-place finishes for Elliott in the Cup Series, but no wins. But his Hall-of-Fame father Bill had 8 runner-up finishes before winning his first Cup race.

Elliott is heading to a great track for 1st-time winners. Since 1980, there's been 8 drivers to get their first Cup Series wins at Talladega. Only Daytona has seen more in that time.

If we get another 1st-time winner on Sunday, it'll be just the 5th time in series history 2 drivers have gotten their first wins at a track in a season. The first time it happened, Chase Elliott's father Bill joined Ricky Rudd as first-time winners at Riverside.

Who's Hot and Who's Not - Talladega (Playoff Driver Edition)

• Brad Keselowski: 5 wins in 34 career restrictor-plate races; 3rd-best win pct (14.7) in series history (min. 5 starts) behind Dale Earnhardt and Davey Allison
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: won last 2 restrictor-plate races (only Dale Earnhardt Sr. has ever won 3 straight)
• Kyle Busch: 4 top-3 finishes over last 2 years in restrictor-plate races (no other driver has more than 2)
• Denny Hamlin: 178 laps led in restrictor-plate races over last 2 seasons (2nd to Brad Keselowski)
• Jamie McMurray: top-5 finishes in 2 of last 3 Talladega races (1 in previous 11)

• Martin Truex Jr.: failed to finish last 2 Talladega races; 11 DNF in 25 career races at track
• Kevin Harvick: no top-5 finishes in his last 12 Talladega races
• Matt Kenseth: finished outside top 20 in last 5 Talladega races (and last 6 restrictor-plate races overall)
• Jimmie Johnson: 21.4 Avg finish in restrictor-plate races over last 2 seasons (6.8 in 2015)
• Ryan Blaney: wrecked out of last 2 restrictor-plate races after finishing 2nd in Daytona 500

--- ESPN Stats& Info ---