Cup Qualifying Rained Out
October 4, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
So don’t be at all surprised if Johnson, who leads Mark Martin in the Winston Cup standings by 11 points with seven races to go, chalks up yet another victory this weekend in the EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway and stretches his lead out a bit.
Johnson will start Sunday’s race from the pole after qualifying was rained out Friday afternoon.
In three superspeedway races this season (two at Daytona and one at Talladega), Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s team have two poles and an average finish of 10th place. Johnson finished seventh at Talladega in April.
“The Lowe’s team has run well on the superspeedways this season,” Johnson said. “We have two poles and haven't finished outside of the top 15. The superspeedway is a type of racetrack that I don’t have all that much experience on, but I feel like I’m getting better with each race on them and I’m learning more about the draft and using it to your advantage. The nice thing about the superspeedways, if you have a strong car and are moving forward, usually the guys will work with you.”
A rookie has never won the Winston Cup championship, but Johnson’s performance over the past few weeks hasn’t wavered. Johnson isn’t at all intimidated by his more experienced opponents.
“It won’t be a worry until we get to the last couple of races,” Johnson said. “There is just too much to worry about with Talladega and Martinsville (in two weeks).”
Like the “big wreck” that always seems to happen at Talladega.
One thing Johnson and his team won’t concern themselves with is the rule implemented by NASCAR for this particular this race. Fuel cells will be reduced in size, therefore guaranteeing more pit stops, in an attempt to separate the cars more. In restrictor-plate races, especially at Talladega, cars normally run in huge packs, stacked up double-file.
“I personally don’t think that the fuel cell will make that big of a difference in the race. I really think that they are just adding three more pit stops,” said Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus. “The draft is active enough and with restrictor plates on these cars, I think that the cars will just get together and be able to work themselves back to the front.”
Dale Earnhardt, Inc., cars will be among the favorites come Sunday. In the last three restrictor-plate races, Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 NAPA Chevy, hasn’t finished worse than fifth. That includes a second-place run in the spring race at Talladega, and a victory in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be going for his third consecutive victory at Talladega Superspeedway. Earnhardt Jr. led the final 24 laps en route to winning the Aaron’s 499 in April, and he passed Bobby Labonte on the final lap in a thrilling victory in the EA Sports 500 last fall.
While most of the top contenders for the Winston Cup championship will have to be cautious about not getting caught up in the “big wreck,” Junior will be able to let it all hang out. He’s currently 13th in the Winston Cup standings.
“I’m not in the points race, so I’m not quite as nervous about it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “So I can go up there and take some more chances. I won't be as patient about it; I can just go right to the front if my car will go there. I don’t know. I just like running in races, and even if you do get crashed out in a big mess, that’s just what happens. You can’t do nothing about them big wrecks. You can’t really avoid them.
“If I was in the points race and got up in there and got crashed out and got a 35th-place finish out of the deal I’d be pretty upset about it, but I would still look forward to the next plate race. As competitive as our cars are, who wouldn’t, driving them cars? Our cars just go right to the front, me and Michael’s (Waltrip). We’ve got to work on Steve’s (Park) a little bit and get his more competitive. When you’ve got cars as good as that, that can do things our cars can do, you just love to go to them race tracks.”
The green flag is scheduled to fall on the EA Sports 500 shortly after 1 p.m. ET Sunday.