NASCAR Talladega Notebook: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Relishes ‘Laid-Back’ Talladega

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Mark McCarter~ NASCAR Wire Service

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo:  Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

TALLADEGA, Ala.— For Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Friday and Saturday are easy” when it comes to Talladega Superspeedway.

Sunday, not so much.

Earnhardt, a five-time Sprint Cup winner at Talladega, acknowledged on the eve of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 race (1 p.m. ET on FOX) that a certain burden comes with his role as crowd favorite here.

“I feel like I’m supposed to get up there and lead,” Earnhardt said. “I feel like that’s a real disappointment for a lot of people when we don’t finish well, if we’re not up in the battle trying at the end.

“If we’re not in that group crossing the finish line that’s up front, I feel that disappointment from all the supporters of our team. More so here and Daytona than other race tracks, for sure.”

Earnhardt has well-documented success on restrictor plate tracks, with his 14 top-10 finishes here in 30 starts and three wins, 18 top 10s in 31 Daytona starts.

Actually, though, “I like short-track racing,” Earnhardt said. He considers Martinsville and Bristol his favorite tracks.

That said, “I look forward to Daytona and Talladega the most,” he said, “because they’re so laid-back and there’s really not a lot of work done. The cars don’t handle, so you just get in and mash it wide-open and practice for a couple of days.

“I haven’t had to do a lot the last couple of days so it’s like a little bit of a break in the middle of the season. This is really low-stress. I look forward to these weekends more to get a little break in the hecticness of how this season goes.”


David Ragan’s tenure in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota comes to an end with the GEICO 500 and he’ll be moving onto his third team in 11 races—“a little weird, for sure,” he acknowledged—when the Sprint Cup schedule resumes at Kansas Speedway on May 9.

Ragan, who began the season with Front Row Motorsports, was enlisted by JGR as a substitute for the injured Kyle Busch. While Busch’s return date has still not been determined—JGR will put rookie Erik Jones in the car until then—Ragan moves on to Michael Waltrip Racing, taking over the No. 55 vacated by Brian Vickers’ illness.

“It’s been a good run for me for these guys,” said Ragan, the winner of this race two years ago. “I think the last race in the 18 car, it’s important to try to end on a good note. It’s going to be important to run well and get a good finish.”

However, the 29-year-old Ragan was well aware the JGR deal was only temporary.

“It’s so much more important for me to have an opportunity going forward with a full-time car, with a very competitive organization like Michael Waltrip Racing than it would be for me to run a few more races before Kyle’s (Busch) return,” Ragan said.

Rookie Brett Moffitt had been in the No. 55 much of the season, but had only one top-10 finish, an impressive run in his Atlanta debut. Clint Bowyer, the team’s ace, is 14th in points with just two top 10s.

“Having David in there with Bowyer is going to make our team better,” said Waltrip.

“Our expectations are every high,” Ragan said. “I think that Clint has been a little hit and miss the first part of the season just trying to understand the new rules package and those cars to get up to speed, but at the end of the day Michael Waltrip Racing has all the tools and resources that Joe Gibbs Racing has or that Hendrick (Motorsports) or Stewart-Haas (Racing) has and there’s no reason for us not to be able to win a race and have a shot at making the Chase. Certainly, that is our goal going forward.”


Erik Jones, who’ll not turn 19 until later this month, said he’s on a tentative schedule that will find him in 46 races this season, among Sprint Cup, XFINITY and the Camping World Truck Series.

Jones will make his first Sprint Cup start next week at Kansas in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota, though he drove in relief of Denny Hamlin in the Cup race at Bristol on April 19. He’s expected to fill in until Kyle Busch returns from the injuries he suffered at Daytona in February.

“I’ve been begging to get in a car since Daytona, so they definitely took their time with it and let me develop this year,” Jones said. “I honestly feel like I’ve advanced as a driver since Daytona and learned a lot as a driver … so I think it’s definitely a better time for me to be able to get into the car at Kansas and definitely feel more comfortable as a driver.”

Jones, a member of the 2014 NASCAR Next class, praised the equipment and team at JGR and said, “It’s just up to me now to really go out and do my job and try to be the best that I can.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. reached a round-number milestone at Richmond last weekend, with his 550th start, putting him 30th on NASCAR’s all-time list.

“Amy (Reimann, his girlfriend) thought it was a big deal and when I told her I didn’t think it was a big deal, she got mad at me. That’s the one thing I remember,” he said. “When I hear that number, I think of people that have more than me, and mine is not significant compared to Mark Martin’s (882) and Terry Labonte’s (890) and people like that. I hope that I can race more and get that number up there a little bit further.”

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