Here comes Junior?

Hendrick Motorsport Teammates Talk at Talladega

Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. along with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are in the Top 10 in the NASCAR Championship standings. This is the first time that the entire Hendrick Motorsports squad has been in the Top 10 at the same time (photo courtesy: Rusty Jarrett, Getty Images Sport)

Last week in Race 8 of 36 en route to the 2010 Sprint Cup Series Championship being crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 21), a multicar incident with just 17 laps remaining claimed some of NASCAR’s most elite drivers.

In Race 9 this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, those Sprint Cup stars will be looking to close the gap in the Championship Chase that will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Ford Championship Weekend (Nov. 19-21). For ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.

Last week’s wreck in Texas provided a fitting segue to the restrictor-plate racing at Talladega. It was last spring in Alabama that a dramatic last-lap crash sent Carl Edwards’  Roush-Fenway Racing Ford flying into the Talladega safety fence, as Brad Keselowski crossed the finish line to win his first Sprint Cup race. Sunday’s race will be the first at Talladega since NASCAR has done away with the wing—a device many blamed for Edwards’ aerial feats last year—in favor of a spoiler.

 “Obviously, a year ago the finish was a little more exciting than I would have liked, but we were in a position to win,” Edwards said recently. “We’re going to go back with points in mind, considering the trouble we had in Atlanta and Texas, and hopefully we can come out of Talladega in one piece.”

Edwards needs a strong finish this weekend after being involved in a chain-reaction wreck on the frontstretch at Texas last weekend that also collected South Florida’s Juan Pablo Montoya, among others. Edwards sits 15th in the points standings—only four points behind 12th place driver Joey Logano—after eight races in the run for the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, which will be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21. For ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call (866) 409-RACE.
 
Other storylines en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami:

● For the first time in the organization's history, Hendrick Motorsports has four drivers ranked in the Top 10 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship standings: Jimmie Johnson leads the Hendrick camp in first place, Jeff Gordon sits fifth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is seventh and Mark Martin is 10th.

● Earnhardt Ganassi Racing drivers Montoya and newcomer Jamie McMurray could be favorites to win the Talladega race. Consider that South Florida-resident Montoya was the polesitter there last spring and finished second at ’Dega in the fall of 2008 (see sidebar); and McMurray has won the last two restrictor-plate races—the 2010 Daytona 500 and last year at Talladega (while driving for Roush-Fenway Racing).

Earnhardt, Jr. heads into Talladega with five career victories, and the No. 88 sits seventh in the Sprint Cup Series standings in his pursuit of Miami glory on Nov. 21.

“When you show up, whatever you unload, that's what you are going to have all weekend,” Earnhardt Jr. said this week. “There's not a lot that you can do to the car to improve it; NASCAR has a lot of rules with the cars at Talladega and Daytona, where you can't do a lot of changes in the back of the car to get the car to handle good. However it unloads is about as fast as it is going to get. Hopefully we brought a bullet."

With a sixth-place finish at Texas, veteran fan-favorite Martin climbed to 10th in the Sprint Cup points standings and is just 34 points outside the Top 5.

Said Martin: “Well, last year I came into this track with the mindset that: 'This is going to be a good race. The odds are with us on this one. Not every race can go wrong for us here.' I was wrong: We ended up on our roof, which was the worst outcome I've ever had [at Talladega]. So, I just come in with no feelings either way.

“Is it my favorite place to come to? No. But feeling one way or the other isn't going to change anything. I just want to finish the race and finish in a good position. No wrecking—that would be a good outcome."

Talladega Superspeedway is the site for Race 9 of 36 in NASCAR’s 2010 Sprint Cup campaign (Sunday, 1 p.m. on FOX), which culminates with the crowning of a Champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21.

All three of NASCAR’s premier racing series—the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series—again will crown Champions at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). For Ford Championship Weekend ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call toll free (866) 409-RACE.

On The Move: South Florida’s Montoya

Montoya at Vegas

“Most of the time it is pretty calm, but when it is really time to go it gets really hairy.”

South Florida resident Juan Pablo Montoya will take the green flag this weekend for his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Talladega Superspeedway. He enters Race 9 of 36—en route to a Champion being crowned on his home track of Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 21—as the reigning pole-sitter at Talladega, where he averages a 15th-place start.

Montoya made his Sprint Cup debut at Talladega in 2006, and the 2008 spring event marked his best finish there as he started 26th and raced his way to a second-place finish. Montoya then drove to the pole position in the 2009 spring race in Alabama but finished 20th after being involved in a late-race, 10-car accident.

“I think it is fun,” Montoya said of Talladega. “I think every year it gets harder because the track gets slicker. When the track was paved for the first time, you could run so hard; you could hit people and things.”

Last weekend at Texas, Montoya had a Top 10 finish within his grasp but with 17 laps remaining that strong run came to an end: While trying to avoid an on-track incident in front of him, he entered the grass before taking a hard hit to the wall. The No. 42 was towed back to the garage, and the team was credited with a 34th-place finish.

Montoya said of this weekend: “It is going to be pretty interesting. We didn’t go to the test [at Talladega in March], because we didn’t think we could find too much. I don’t think they know yet what they are going to run for the spoiler and restrictor and stuff, so we will see.

“Most of the time [at Talladega] it is pretty calm, but when it is really time to go it gets really hairy. It is four-wide, five-wide;  it is like you are squeezing just to go through things. It is hard because you want to keep your foot in it to stay in the draft, so it is pretty interesting.”

South Florida’s NASCAR hometown’er continues his pursuit of the Sprint Cup Series Championship—to be crowned Nov. 21 on his “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway—on Sunday, April 25, at Talladega Superspeedway. The race will be broadcast on FOX at 1 PM.

Follow Juan Pablo Montoya
http://twitter.com/JPmontoya

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