Junior Still The Man At Talladega

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If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going to make a serious run at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship, it stands to reason that it has to start here at Talladega Superspeedway.

A five-time winner here, Earnhardt Jr. is still considered the man to beat at the 2.66-mile track despite his struggles in the last three races. He comes into this weekend’s UAW-Ford 500 in seventh place in The Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, 123 points behind leader Jeff Burton.

There are seven races remaining in The Chase.

"This is a big weekend for us," the driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet said. "Talladega is always a track that shakes things up in The Chase. We can make some serious gains in the points this week with a good run.

"Obviously, we lost a little ground to Jeff at Kansas, but we gained ground to get much closer to second place. It’s important that we gain a few positions, because we can’t afford to be stuck behind six guys week after week. You can make up big chunks of points on one guy if he has trouble, but you can’t expect that all six guys ahead of you will have issues. We need some top fives and wins to catch up, but I look at some of the tracks coming up and feel really good about them."

Earnhardt Jr. has fared well at upcoming tracks such as Martinsville Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. In the first three races of The Chase, he’s finished 13th, 21st and 10th.

It’s at Talladega, however, that he has especially excelled. His first victory here came in fall 2001, and that set off a string of four consecutive triumphs here.

He returned to Gatorade Victory Lane at Talladega in fall 2004. Since then, he has finished 15th, 40th and 31st.

"We really haven’t run as well here the last couple of times as we expect to," Earnhardt Jr. said. "That’s probably a bigger concern for me than the chances of being in a wreck. But, I’ve got the confidence in my team. We always go in with the same philosophy — run hard and run up front. If you’re in the lead, you’re a lot more likely to stay out of trouble."

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