Talladega - the track where winning streaks come to die
TALLADEGA, Ala. - Riding the crest of a three-race winning streak, Kyle Busch comes to Talladega with a chance to join elite company.
In NASCAR's modern era (1972 to present), only eight drivers have managed to win four straight events in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
With a victory in Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Busch would equal the four-victory streaks of Cale Yarborough (1976), Darrell Waltrip (1981), Dale Earnhardt Sr. (1987), Harry Gant (1991), Bill Elliott (1992), Mark Martin (1993), Jeff Gordon (1998) and Jimmie Johnson (2007).
Given the random nature of restrictor-plate racing, however, Busch faces a formidable challenge. And he's also fighting history.
Only three times in the modern era has a driver come to Talladega on a streak of three straight victories or more. Bobby Allison had won at Bristol, Trenton and Atlanta in 1972, but he finished third behind race winner James Hylton at NASCAR's longest oval.
Earnhardt had a four-race string intact - with victories at Darlington, North Wilkesboro, Bristol and Martinsville - when he came to Talladega in 1987. There, the streak ended when Davey Allison won the race, with Earnhardt finishing fourth.
Rusty Wallace had three straight short-track wins under his belt, at Bristol, North Wilkesboro and Martinsville, when he came to Talladega in 1993. But Wallace had to settle for sixth place in a race won by Ernie Irvan.
Busch, who won at Talladega in 2008, will be the next to try.
"It's obviously a great opportunity to try to go race for four in a row, but definitely a different circumstance that we're coming to Talladega," Busch said on Friday between practices. "I've kind of heard some of the rumblings through the week about some of the guys that have been on streaks of three in a row or four in a row - whatever they've been on, they've never gone through a plate race, to the best of my knowledge.
"It makes for a more challenging time to be able to get that fourth in a row, but also we'll know how much more rewarding it is when we do get it."
DID TREVOR BAYNE JUST CALL HIS SHOT AT TALLADEGA?
In the wake of the biggest NASCAR news of the past week, Trevor Bayne is dealing with disappointment.
The announcement that veteran Matt Kenseth would return to Roush Fenway Racing for select races in the No. 6 Ford means that Bayne will have to share his ride for the rest of the season. When Kenseth gets behind the wheel at Kansas two weeks from now, Bayne will be on the sidelines.
Behind his team transporter at Talladega Superspeedway, Bayne addressed the dramatic change in the plans for the No. 6 car. Bayne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013, but he said categorically on Friday that health issues had nothing to do with the addition of Kenseth to the program.
"I wanted to get you all together to let you know that, first of all, my health is 100 percent," said Bayne, who did not take questions from reporters after his statement. "I am as fit physically, mentally and spiritually as I have ever been to do my job well.
"The second part is that my desire is still as it has always been since I was five-years-old, to come to the track every weekend to contend for wins and championships and be a driver at the top level in the Cup Series. Nothing there has changed. I am still going to pursue that, because I feel I have the ability to do that."
Roush Fenway believes Kenseth can help identify areas where the teams of Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. can improve performance. Bayne is currently 26th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings with a season-best finish of 12th at Texas.
Bayne's only victory at NASCAR's highest level came in his second career start - in the 2011 Daytona 500, but the ride-sharing situation with Kenseth hasn't blunted his determination.
"I am here to win Talladega, as I had planned to do before any of this," Bayne said. "That's what I'm going to do."
Clearly, though, Bayne now has a bit more motivation to fulfill that prophecy.
JAMIE MCMURRAY BARREL-ROLLS DOWN TALLADEGA'S BACKSTRETCH
Roughly 10 minutes into Friday's final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Talladega Superspeedway, with lap speeds approaching 204 mph, a cut left-rear tire sent Jamie McMurray's No. 1 Chevrolet turning sideways in front of Ryan Newman's No. 31 Chevy.
The impact from the nose of Newman's car launched McMurray's machine into the air. The car barrel-rolled down the backstretch, clipping the inside fencing as it rotated. Fortunately, the car landed upright, and McMurray emerged unhurt.
"I heard the tire start to come apart, and you're kind of along for the ride," said McMurray, who had set the fastest lap of the session at 204.975 mph two laps before the wreck. "The car, I think it turned to the right and then kind of back to the left, and I obviously was in the front of that draft. And then, once it starts rolling, you don't have any control. You can't tell what's up and what's down-you're spinning so fast.
"I was just thankful. Honestly, the whole time it's flipping I was like, 'Just please land the right way up so I can get out.' You just never know if there is going to be a fire. We literally had only run four or five laps, so you know you have a full tank of fuel. And so to get out upside down-I've never done that-but it's a challenge when you watch guys try to do that. So I was just thankful that the car landed on all fours."
McMurray and Newman both will resort to backup cars for Sunday's GEICO 500 and will start from the rear of the field according to NASCAR rules. So will Ty Dillon and Daniel Suarez, who also were involved in the chain-reaction accident as the trailing cars checked up behind McMurray and Newman.
Dillon was fastest in Friday's opening practice.
"I just hate that we don't get to take that car that had so much speed in practice to the race, but I think we can duplicate it with our back-up car," Dillon said. "I think that our setup was really good, and I think we can be just fine going to the race.
"Just unfortunate to tear up a race car. Nobody's fault really. Jamie had a flat left rear and kind of a scary ride there."
--- NASCAR Wire Service ---