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A fifth placed finish at Talladega on Sunday allowed Greg Biffle to maintain his points lead in the NASCAR Spring Cup Series standings. Jumping up to second place was Matt Kenseth, who finished in third place on Sunday and now trails Biffle by just seven points.
Brad Keselowski, who won at Talladega on Sunday, checks in at 12th place in the standings. It was his second victory of 2012.
Here's a look at the leaders in this year's standings:
Three years ago, Brad Keselowski stunned the NASCAR world by taking James Finch's Chevrolet to victory lane in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. Sunday, he became the first Dodge driver since Dave Marcis in 1976 to win at NASCAR's biggest track, pulling away from Kyle Busch as they raced out of the final turn and hanging on to score his second win of the 2012 season and the sixth of his career.
Busch was third ahead of a dominant Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, and point leader Greg Biffle. The top-10 was rounded out by Clint Bowyer - in the University of Alabama car - Unadilla's David Ragan, Trevor Bayne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Burton.
A late accident caused on the next to last restart eliminated several contenders. Denny Hamlin moved to the inside of A.J. Allmendinger, who attempted to block even though Hamlin's Toyota was at his left rear corner. Predictably, that turned Allmendinger into Paul Menard, setting off a melee that ruined the hopes of victory those drivers and Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, and Michael Waltrip.
Keselowski is the first driver since Tony Stewart in October 2008 to lead into the tri-oval under green-flag conditions and hold on for the win at Talladega. It is also the first win ever for legendary car owner Roger Penske at Talladega.
A spate of cars running out of fuel caused a stack up that finally culminated in the dreaded "Big One," the multi car accident that collects several contenders.
Dave Blaney and Aric Almirola got together, hooking Blaney across the track into Juan Pablo Montoya and collected Landon Cassill, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Joey Logano, and Carl Edwards. Gordon, the pole sitter, slammed the wall nearly head on but was able to drive his mangled Chevrolet to the garage. It is just the latest stroke of bad luck in a nightmare 2012 season for the four-time series champion.
Montoya, Truex, Edwards, Cassill, Blaney, and Labonte have also been forced behind the wall.
Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Trevor Bayne, Bobby Labonte, Kurt Busch, and race leader Matt Kenseth had all run shy on gas and it was likely what caused Blaney to impact Almirola, setting off the lap 141 melee.
With just over 40 laps remaining, Kenseth has reassumed the lead ahead of Marcos AMbrose, Paul Menard, Brad Keselowski, and Greg Biffle.
The engine on Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet has blown, bringing an end to the day for the defending champion of the Aaron's 499 at the Talladega Superspeedway. The five-time Sprint Cup champion was able to get his car off the track before a caution flag flew for the smoke billowing from his stricken Hendrick Motorsports mount.
Johnson's engine let go after he had completed 62 laps. There has been only one caution flag - for Regan Smith's blown engine at lap 17 - but Ryan Newman's motor had also broken since Smith fell out. Newman, like Johnson, runs Hendrick-built engines. Hendrick's other three drivers - Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon (who blew up in the Daytona 500), and Kasey Kahne - along with Newman's teammate and car-owner Tony Stewart are also running Hendrick powerplants.
As Johnson fell out of the race, his usual drafting partner and the NASCAR fan favorite Earnhardt Jr. took over the lead. Earnhardt, of course seeking his first win since June 2008, had a record four-consecutive wins at Talladega from October 2001-April 2003, and added a fifth win in October 2004. He has not won a restrictor plate race since that victory, however, but he always finds himself among the contenders.
Only seventeen laps are down in Talladega, but the Aaron's 499 has already seen one catastrophic engine failure. Regan Smith's No. 78 Chevrolet erupted in a plume of smoke as he raced down the backstretch, drawing the opening caution flag of the 188-lap affair.
Tony Stewart led the opening 17 laps after starting from the eighth position, ahead of Matt Kenseth and Marcos Ambrose while the rest of the field jostled in two and three-wide formation. Polesitter Jeff Gordon was among the drivers who had dropped to the rear of the field, both to avoid the pack and the potential major accident that lurks at every second and to also keep their engines cooled.
Without a sponsor, Bill Elliott wasn't scheduled to run the full distance in today's Aaron's 499 anyway, but the Toyota engine in his NEMCO Motorsports Toyota popped after he had run only nine laps. The NASCAR legend, a native of course of Dawsonville, joined team owner Joe Nemechek and the other Start and Park drivers in the garage before the caution flag flew for Smith's engine failure.
Engine durability is definitely something worth paying attention to in the 499-mile race at Talladega on Sunday. With drivers expected to play it safe for 20 laps or so, engine temperatures could spike through the course of the race.
Gone is two-car tandem drafting, and in its place is a return to cars running around side-by-side in a large group. But the return to pack racing comes with inherent risks, as restrictor-plate racing is more about surviving and not getting swept up in the "Big One" whenever it inevitably occurs.
The old adage, "To finish first, one must first finish" is the mantra of the weekend. Look for many a driver to try and play it safe until there's about 20 or so laps to go. After that, expect a free-for-all with at least one, if not more attempts at a green-white-checkered finish. Think of this as NASCAR's version of a reality show, where the field will slowly be whittled down until one contestant is left standing.
Check out Bianchi's list of favorites at Talladega, led by Dale Earnhardt Jr., and "sleeper" pick Joey Logano:
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Coming off a great run at Richmond, where he finished runner-up to Kyle Busch and moved up to second in the standings just five points behind leader Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears ever closer to finally snapping his 138-race winless streak.
What better place for it to happen than Talladega, where he's been victorious five times and has three runner-up finishes. And if Earnhardt Jr. were to win today, he would likely move to the top of the standings for the first time since September 2004.
2. Clint Bowyer
You may be surprised to be see Clint Bowyer's name on this list, but you shouldn't be. In his last three starts at Talladega, Bowyer has two wins and finished second in the other. However, it's worth noting that his prior success all came while he was driving for Richard Childress Racing - a powerhouse on the plate tracks - and not his current Michael Waltrip Racing team.
3. Matt Kenseth
As evidenced by his win in the Daytona 500, Matt Kenseth has this pack-drafting thing down pretty well. And to win today, it's going to take patience and know-how to avoid the many pratfalls that racing at Talladega presents, both of which Kenseth more than possesses.
In a race that just about anyone can win, let's roll the dice on Joey Logano, who won yesterday's Nationwide Series race, has a better average finish at Talladega than anyone else in today's field and has posted top-10 finishes here in four of six starts.
Follow our StoryStream for updates at Talladega.
The Aaron's 499 from Talladega Superspeedway is likely to be delayed after early morning storms blanketed the track. The rain continues and there has yet to be an official announcement but SB Nation's Jeff Gluck reports that it takes about two and a half hours to dry the track and the rain still hasn't let up.
If it takes 2 1/2 hours to dry track, there's NO chance the race will start on time unless the rain stops soon, which is not happening.— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) May 6, 2012
Rain was moving north to south but could be weakening as the morning moves along. It is still likely that the race is run on Sunday but a slight delay is looking more and more possible. An official announcement from NASCAR should be coming soon.
One of NASCAR's most exciting races gets underway on Sunday afternoon with the green flag expected to drop at about 1:20 p.m. ET. Race coverage begins on Fox at noon, ET.
The race is 188 laps around the 2.66-mile for a total of 500 miles. The weather forecast calls for hot temperatures with a chance of scattered showers or a thunderstorm in the afternoon.
Last year's race saw Jimmie Johnson head to the winner's circle after getting a push from teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Clint Bowyer passed Jeff Burton late in the fall race to claim the victory.
Jeff Gordon will be on the pole for Sunday's race and will be joined in the front row by AJ Allmendinger. Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne round out the top five of today's race.
Race Date/Time: Sunday, May 6, 12 p.m. ET
Location: Talladega Superspeedway, Lincoln, Alabama
Radio: Motor Racing Network
Joey Logano passed Kyle Busch out of the trioval and nipped his Sprint Cup teammate to win Saturday's Aaron's 312 Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superpeedway. Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Cole Whitt, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top-five.
Logano's win is overshadowed by a horrifying accident on the first green-white-checkered attempt of the race when Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and Michael Annett came together as they raced for the third position. In the stack up, Eric McClure's Toyota shot across the track slammed the inside wall - thankfully covered by a SAFER Barrier - nearly head on.
McClure remained in his car for several minutes before the roof was cut off the car and he was carried on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance. McClure was then airlifted from the track to a hospital in Birmingham. NASCAR officials informed ABC Sports' broadcast team that McClure was talking with the safety workers before being removed from the car, but they had no further update on his condition.
Visit NASCAR.com for the full results.
Eric McClure had to be airlifted off the track during the Aaron's 312 at Talladega on Saturday following a nasty wreck that took out several cars. McClure's car was totaled in the wreck after it slammed head first into the inner wall. The wreck was started from the middle of a tight pack when Kevin Harvick's No. 33 car swirled out of control.
SB Nation's Jeff Gluck is at the race, and was able to get a photo of the damage.
This is as close as NASCAR would let me get to McClure's car. Just tremendous damage.instagr.am/p/KQvu6UNXna/— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) May 5, 2012
It took several minutes to get McClure out of his car. At one pit his pit completely emptied as team members gathered around monitors at Austin Dillon's pit to watch. McClure was eventually removed from the car, placed on a stretcher and taken to UAB Medical Center in Birmingham.
For what seems like the one-gazillionth time in his career, Jeff Gordon will start from the pole on raceday. The NASCAR legend won his 71st-career pole Saturday, taking the top spot for tomorrow's Aaron's 499 at the Talladega Superspeedway. It marks the 20th-consecutive season that Gordon has won a pole position. His Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet turned a lap of 49.97 seconds to secure the No. 1 starting spot.
A.J. Allmendinger sat on the pole for most of the session before Gordon knocked him off the top perch. He will still start second in pursuit of his first Sprint Cup victory. Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola will share the second row, while Kasey Kahne was fifth.
Roush-Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards were sixth and seventh, ahead of Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip, and Matt Kenseth. Kenseth, of course, won the first restrictor-plate race of the season when he won the 54th-annual Daytona 500 in February.
Fan-favorite - especially in Talladega - Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 18th-quickest, one spot ahead of his teammate and the driver he pushed to the win in last year's race, Jimmie Johnson.
Unadilla's David Ragan was 32nd-quickest in his Front Row Motorsports Ford, while legendary Bill Elliott of Dawsonville was 36th in Joe Nemechek's No. 97 Toyota.
Missing the show was J.J. Yeley in his No. 49 Toyota.
Continuing a tradition that began in 2010, Michael Waltrip Racing will field entry sporting a paint scheme honoring this year's BCS National Champions at Sunday's Aaron's 499 at the Talladega Superspeedway. This weekend's ride is Clint Bowyer's No. 15 Toyota, which usually carries sponsorship from 5-Hour Energy. This weekend he sports Alabama's trademark crimson and white colors on his Camry, which will carry sponsorship from Atlanta-based Aaron's Sales and Leases - the event sponsor.
In addition to carrying the Roll Tide paint scheme, Bowyer will wear a tribute of his own this weekend. He has been noteworthy for having racing helmets that featured images of Elvis Presley and racing icon Smokey Yunick. This weekend, the helmet is emblazoned with a portrait of legendary University of Alabama head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant."
Bowyer posted this image of the helmet to Twitter. Even as someone with little to no knowledge of collegiate sports, I have to concur with him that it is pretty sweet. Only he obviously didn't say sweet.
As for the car, its paint scheme can be viewed here. Scroll down, trust me, you won't miss it.
Alabama fans who would like to add a miniature replica of the No. 15 to their shrine or buy a commemorative T-shirt or ballcap can visit the NASCAR.com Superstore's University of Alabama Collection page. The 1/64 diecasts are the same size as a Hot Wheels car, while 1/24-scale diecast are much bigger and much more detailed (hence the much higher price).
Finally, for anyone wondering, it was David Reutimann's No. 00 Toyota that started the Michael Waltrip Racing/Aaron's/National Champion tradition in 2010, carrying the Crimson Tide paint scheme. Last year, Waltrip himself drove the No. 15 car with an Auburn University scheme. Reutimann's car can be seen here (again, scroll down, you won't miss it I promise) and Waltrip's can be viewed here.
NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series heads to the biggest, baddest track of them all this weekend. Racing action at the 2.66 -mile Talladega Superspeedway is white-knuckled, and that's just for the fans.