Chitwood promoted, Wile named track president at Daytona
RELATED: Daytona's evolution through the years DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Joie Chitwood III, president of Daytona International Speedway since 2010, has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer of International Speedway Corporation. And Darlington Raceway President Chip Wile, has been named President of Daytona International Speedway replacing Chitwood there. The big news came Monday, a little more than two months before the newly transformed Daytona track plays host to its second Sprint Cup Series race of the season, the Coke Zero 400 on July 2 (7:45 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). "Joie has played a tremendous role in the success of our flagship racetrack at Daytona International Speedway since 2010," stated ISC CEO Lesa France Kennedy. "Most recently, his leadership of the Daytona Rising project, while simultaneously operating the facility, has demonstrated his operational acumen." Chitwood oversaw the $400 million "reimagining" of the Daytona facility that received rave reviews at its February unveiling for 2016 Speedweeks. Among the dutires in his new position, Chitwood will oversee future ISC "enterprise facility operations." "Joie's promotion is well deserved and reflects his achievements and increased role in the company's future," said John Saunders, President of ISC. "He brings a distinct passion, creativity, and drive to this new role and we look forward to his contributions." Wile, who oversaw a massive transformation with the Darlington Raceway Sprint Cup Series races the past two seasons, spearheaded the hugely popular "throwback" race weekend at the famous track last year. He is set to assume his new role at Daytona in time for the Florida track’s "Country 500" music event set for Memorial Day weekend. "Chip personifies the ideal track president being someone who values relationship building as the catalyst for collaboration and promotion," Kennedy said. "He not only operates with a fan-first mentality, but is deeply community-focused and a real team player, all of which will serve him well in this new role." RELATED: Throwback schemes for Darlington's 2016 race
Chase Elliott earns 21 Means 21 Pole Award at Talladega
RELATED: Lineup " See all 40 cars TALLADEGA, Ala. – Numerologists doubtless will have a field day with the front row for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (on FOX at 1 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Touring the 2.66-mile race track in 49.704 seconds (192.661 mph) during Saturday's time trials, Chase Elliott put the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole, making the 20-year-old rookie driver two-for-two at restrictor-plate superspeedways. In his first qualifying run as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, Elliott won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 . The pole was the sixth at Talladega for the No. 24, the first five having been recorded by Jeff Gordon , who retired after the 2015 season and turned the car over to Elliott. And the pole run came roughly 30 years after Elliott's father, Bill Elliott , earned the top starting spot for the spring Talladega race with a lap at 212.229 mph, before restrictor plates were introduced at the superspeedways. Coincidentally, Bill Elliott also won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 1986. "This is definitely a special place," Chase Elliott said after his pole-winning run. "It's cool to get it done today. This is a team effort, and those guys and everybody at the No. 5 and No. 24 shop, in particular, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and the Hendrick engine department and obviously (sponsor) NAPA Auto parts. "But, man, this is cool. Those guys do such a good job. And as I said in Daytona , this had nothing to do with me. This is the car that we had. This is the same car we had in Daytona . They brought another fast one here." The car Elliott beat for the pole, the No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon (192.424 mph), also has a noteworthy history at Talladega. Driving the No. 3 for owner Richard Childress, Dillon’s grandfather, the late Dale Earnhardt collected nine of his 10 Talladega victories and all three of his Talladega poles. "There's a lot of history here with Dale and RCR," Dillon said. "A lot of good stuff happened with RCR here, so hopefully we can continue that streak of good runs for RCR here. We’ve got a car capable of doing that, obviously, with the qualifying effort, and I'd love for it to be my first Cup win." Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who has never won a pole at NASCAR's biggest oval track but has six race wins on his resume here, qualified third at 192.293 mph. Matt Kenseth (192.181 mph) claimed the fourth position on the grid, followed by Jimmie Johnson (192.116 mph) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (192.089 mph). The only other driver to top 192 mph was seventh-place starter Brad Keselowski (192.008 mph), a three-time Talladega winner. Ty Dillon qualified the No. 14 Chevrolet for Tony Stewart and earned the 14th starting spot, but Stewart will start Sunday’s race and will have to drop to the rear for the green flag because of the driver change. The plan is for Stewart, who returned to action last Sunday at Richmond after injuring his back during the offseason, to turn the car over to Dillon during the first caution of the race. Note: Josh Wise failed to make the 40-car field.
Staff picks for GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : If Joe Gibbs Racing can get organized in the same way it did at Daytona in February, the No. 11 could be the winning ticket at Talladega. -- Zack Albert Dale Earnhardt Jr .: Series' best plate racer has had three runner-up finishes this season. He's due. -- Kenny Bruce Jimmie Johnson : This will mark the 10th Talladega race since Johnson last won here and, quite simply, it's time. While his teammates will grab the lion's share of the attention, "Six-Time" will ultimately hold the winner's trophy -- his third. -- Holly Cain Joey Logano : Entering the weekend, I'd already pegged Joey Logano as the favorite -- then he went out and topped final practice. Seemingly due for a win and with a pair of restrictor-plate victories in his back pocket from last year, what more are you looking for? -- Pat DeCola Ryan Blaney : His best Cup finish came in this race last year and Penske, with whom Wood Brothers is affiliated, has taken two of the last three 'Dega races. -- RJ Kraft Dale Earnhardt Jr .: I'm jumping on the Junior bandwagon. He's always the one to beat at the 2.66-mile track and he'll make it difficult for the rest of the field en route to his seventh Cup win here. -- Maggie MacKenzie Brad Keselowski : The 2012 premier series champion spoils the recent Hendrick-JGR show of power, thanks to his own racing ingenuity and plenty of fast Fords with which to partner. -- Brad Norman Brad Keselowski : The Team Penske driver earned his first Cup win in 2009 at Talladega and has won twice more since. Couple that with he and teammate Joey Logano 's history of working closely together on-track -- a crucial element to plate racing -- and 'Dega Victory Lane could be calling Keselowski's name. -- Jessica Ruffin Matt Kenseth : All the bad luck that the No. 20 team has had this year has masked impressive speed. Talladega is about both luck and speed. With the former in hand as shown by his fourth-place qualifying effort, Kenseth is due for a more auspicious turn of his fortune. -- Kathy Sheldon Denny Hamlin : Hamlin saw Victory Lane two years ago at Talladega and with his 2016 Daytona 500 win under his belt, the JGR driver seems ready to dominate another superspeedway this season. -- Taylor Starer Chase Elliott : His dad won here twice and the man who drove the No. 24 before him won here six times. Talladega has been known to produce dramatic moments, so let's root for another one to happen Sunday. -- George Winkler Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
Junior: 'Amelia' 'needs to be parked for awhile'
RELATED: Watch: Edwards finishes off Junior's bad day TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Perhaps it's time for Dale Earnhardt Jr . to break up with "Amelia." The Hendrick Motorsports driver and Chevrolet Chassis No. 88-872 -- affectionately dubbed "Amelia" by Junior after trailblazing pilot Amelia Earhart -- had their moments, winning twice in four restrictor-plate events in 2015, but things went sour early between the power couple in Sunday's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway , as they did in the season-opening Daytona 500 . RELATED: ' Amelia' goes spinning at Daytona The first caution of the race flew when the No. 88 driver appeared to lose control while driving in the midst of the lead pack on Lap 49 of the scheduled 188-lap event. "Amelia" suddenly spun, and No. 5 Kasey Kahne slammed into his HMS teammate, doling out significant damage. "Just got loose. I was in a bad spot with the wind. It pinned the nose real hard off the corner and the car was a little bit loose off the corner that run," Earnhardt explained at his hauler. "Real, real tight the first run (which) is why we fell back, we were just on the splitter real bad pushing. I could only run the top, I couldn't even run the middle or the bottom because the car just would plow across the race track. "So, we missed something this morning, I don't know, but the thing shouldn't have been on the splitter that hard. We couldn't fix that. You have to put packer in the front or something when it is on the splitter as bad as it was. It was still on the splitter that second run. I had a lot of wheel in the car in the middle of the corner and then the back was swinging on the exit with the adjustments we made on the pit stop. Just a bad combination … We just got to look at what we are doing on our adjustments and try not to do that." Earnhardt, who said "the same thing that happened at Daytona to us," took his car to the garage to assess the damage, his crew working to get his ride back on track shortly after the halfway mark, 46 laps down. Not long after, the No. 88 again ran into trouble after making hard contact with the No. 19 of Carl Edwards on Lap 110, forcing its hood up over the windshield and catching on fire. WATCH: Edwards finishes off Junior's bad day "We were just out there riding around and something broke on the 19 and he came up into us and we were just out there chilling out, having fun," Earnhardt said. More importantly, it appeared to cause a problem with the No. 88's steering wheel, which completely came off. "Oh, it (came) off. Yeah, I didn't have it on there. Luckily it was under caution," said Earnhardt, who managed to corral his machine without taking another major hit. "I just grabbed the shaft and steered the car that way. Ripped the skin off my hand, but I wasn't going to let it hit the wall. That was just a freak deal. … We're working on something to keep that from happening going forward." The car did not return to the track after that, saddling Earnhardt with a 40th-place finish and possibly resulting in a final resting spot for "Amelia" in Earnhardt's car graveyard. "Hell, I'm going home. I'm done," Earnhardt said. "We need to park the car for a while, too." RELATED: Wildest wrecks at Tall adega " Junior's 'Amelia' takes flight again
Junior talks plate success that others still seek
RELATED: Full schedule " Dale Jr.'s 'Amelia' ready to take flight again TALLADEGA, Ala. -- In his mind, the best race Dale Earnhardt Jr . ever ran at Talladega Superspeedway won't be remembered for one simple reason. "Because I didn't win," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said Friday during a day of practice on the 2.66-mile layout. "I'm disappointed because of what happened in that race and what we were doing with the car and what the car was doing was amazing. It sucks because we were just 6 inches short of being declared the winner. … We've lost a lot of races here, but I can't even remember any of them that stand out like that." A winner in the spring race at Talladega, Earnhardt Jr. returned in the fall needing another victory to keep his championship hopes alive. Although he led a race-high 61 laps, officials determined that Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) was the leader and thus the winner when the caution came out on a green-white-checkered restart that froze the field and ended the race. Fifty-five. That's how many races the 41-year-old Earnhardt has lost on tracks where NASCAR requires the use of restrictor plates to keeps speeds in check. However, 10 wins during a career that launched full-time in 2000, puts the son of a seven-time champion in the role of the favorite in plate races. That's twice as many as the soon-to-be-retired Tony Stewart and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson . It's as much a statement about the car, Earnhardt said, as the driver. And what one does with it. "If the car can't complete the passes that my mind mentally wants it to make, then I won't be as offensive and as confident in making those moves," he said. "When I was driving the (Budweiser) car, around 2003, '04, '05 when we were winning all those races, I raced as hard in practice as I did in the race. …You kind of can set the tone early in the weekend with your competitors that this is who you're going to be out on the track; plus this is the car you've got." It certainly helped that his father, Dale Earnhardt, was a master of plate racing, winning 13 times combined at Talladega and Daytona . RELATED: See all of Earnhardt Sr.'s wins "I learned a tremendous amount because I solely watched him whereas, someone else who grew up around the sport may not have focused as much on one particular driver," Earnhardt Jr. said. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards have combined to win the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races heading into Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Fellow JGR teammate Denny Hamlin scored the win in the season-opener at Daytona , the most recent restrictor-plate race. MORE: Edwards: 'Kyle and I haven't talked' since Richmond "You can't make stupid mistakes," Edwards, still searching for his first plate-track win, said. "I learned that early on." Caught up in an incident during one restrictor-plate race, Edwards said he told then-car owner Jack Roush afterward "something like, 'Man, there's just nothing I could do to miss the wreck.' " At which point Roush gave his driver a piece of advice. "He said, 'You might want to go look at the tape because you drove right past Tony Stewart into the wreck and he somehow missed it.' "I went back and watched and I learned from that," Edwards said. "You really have to be watching ahead and you have to pay attention." That he's yet to win a restrictor-plate race is perplexing, considering the 36-year-old has 27 career victories. "I don't need to see my stats at these places," he said, "because they're not good. … I'd like to get a superspeedway win. We've got great cars and we've got great teammates. I feel like I know how to run these races, but I just haven't been able to get the victory out of it. Hopefully we can do that." Edwards isn't the only notable still searching for that first plate win. Former series champion Kurt Busch (2004) and Martin Truex Jr ., who lost to Hamlin by a nose at Daytona , are as well. "We've seen Dale over the years just really show everybody how it's done and that's because he has a really good understanding of the air, the way it works and knowing how to use that to his advantage," Truex Jr. ( Furniture Row Racing ) said. "For me … I've kind of had good races and bad and lately I feel like I've learned a lot more and gotten better at it, but there's still a lot to learn. MORE: Five to Watch: Sleeper picks " Wildest Talladega wrecks
Stewart preps for relief driver switch at Talladega
RELATED: Weekend schedule " Dillon ready for action TALLADEGA, Ala. -- A week after returning to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition, Tony Stewart becomes a start-and-park driver. In a manner of speaking. Start-and-watch might be more appropriate. The three-time premier series champion missed the season's first eight points races after suffering a back injury during the offseason. RELATED: Full timeline of Stewart's injury, comeback Stewart is scheduled to start his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Talladega Superspeedway before turning over the wheel to XFINITY Series driver Ty Dillon . It's an infrequent turn of events, but something that does happen from time to time in NASCAR. Last season, Erik Jones stepped in for Denny Hamlin at Bristol Motor Speedway after the Joe Gibbs Racing driver developed a neck spasm during a rain delay. Jones finished 26th. Hamlin was also involved in a driver swap at Talladega in 2013. Injured in an accident at Auto Club Speedway , Hamlin started the Aaron's 499 but eventually gave up the seat to Brian Vickers . J.J. Yeley replaced Bill Elliott during a race here in 2011; he also replaced Stewart in '08 during the summer race at Daytona . Stewart, speaking to the media Friday at Talladega, said he expects to do "what I always do around here at the beginning of the race … just ride around in the back until we get to the first caution." It won't be "glamorous," he said, but it meets his doctors' request. Well, almost. According to Stewart, his doctors didn't want him competing at all this weekend. "We need the points and so we talked them into letting us to at least start the race," said Stewart, who sits 101 points out of 30th. MORE: Standings pre-Talladega "I told them it normally doesn't go more than two or three laps at the beginning of the race before a caution. It might go 82 or 83 laps, who knows? But, we'll run until it gets there." Unofficially, the last time a relief driver won a NASCAR premier series race was 1977, and it occurred at Talladega as well. Donnie Allison started what was then a July race but eventually turned the driving over to Darrell Waltrip due to illness. Waltrip replaced Allison with 23 laps remaining and took the lead with six to go when race leader Skip Manning's car suffered mechanical problems. According to NASCAR rules, points earned by an entry are awarded to the driver starting the race, meaning Stewart will be credited with those earned Sunday by Dillon.
Theriault, Cindric to take turns in BKR's third truck
Brad Keselowski Racing announced Thursday that it plans to field a third truck in two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races in May. BKR plans to field the No. 2 Ford for Austin Cindric on May 13 at Dover International Raceway and for Austin Theriault on May 20 at Charlotte Motor Speedway . The two will race alongside the Statesville, North Carolina-based team's two full-time drivers -- Daniel Hemric and Tyler Reddick . The 17-year-old Cindric is scheduled to make just his third Camping World Truck Series start. He was 25th (Martinsville) and 14th (Phoenix) driving BKR's No. 29 Ford in two appearances near the end of last season. "A track called the 'Monster Mile' shouldn't be taken lightly," Cindric said in a news release provided by the team. "They tell me that the two truck races that I was able to do last year at Martinsville and Phoenix were difficult tracks to figure out, and I believe Dover will be the same. As I haven't been able to test, I've been watching as much video as possible while reaching out to as many people as I can to pick their brain about what it takes to be fast at Dover. I'm just going in with no expectations, trying to absorb as much information as possible and have fun with it." Theriault, 22, will be making his second start of the year after placing a crash-related 27th in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway . He also made nine starts for BKR last season, recording two top-five finishes ( Daytona , Texas). "I was really proud of the effort at Daytona and how strong our performance was, and I feel like Charlotte won't be any different," Theriault said. "I'm going there with the expectation to win. I know we will have a strong Ford F-150 race truck at Charlotte and we plan to perform well, just like we did earlier this year at Daytona . At the end of the day, we want to win, and we have all the resources here at BKR to do just that at Charlotte."
Being a crew chief 'the next best thing' for Kendrick
RELATED: Complete schedule " See the series standings STATESVILLE, N.C. – There's a huge difference between going fast and racing. Chad Kendrick says he was very good at the former, but the latter took some time to figure out. Today, the split-second decisions he makes come from atop the pit box, where Kendrick is crew chief for driver Daniel Hemric and the No. 19 Ford of Brad Keselowski Racing in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series. But there was a time at South Boston Speedway when the Late Models were hauling the mail around the 4/10th-mile oval … "It was the best race I was ever having," Kendrick, a native of Durham, North Carolina, said recently. "I was running fifth and Denny was leading. He spun or did something and had to go to the back." "Denny," of course, was Denny Hamlin , this year's Daytona 500 champion and winner of 27 NASCAR premier series races for Joe Gibbs Racing . "He drove right back through the field," Kendrick said. "I'm fourth now (after Hamlin went to the rear); he catches me and he's not wasting time; he just knocks me out of the way. I was so mad … my tongue's hanging out and I'm giving it everything I've got and this kid is just gone. And I can't catch him." Hamlin, Kendrick and a host of others cut their racing teeth on tracks such as South Boston, trying to race their way out of anonymity. South Boston and Langley and Orange County and Southern National have helped make stars and have just as likely crushed dreams. Hamlin might have had a better car on this particular day. But he might have had something else as well. "It kind of hit me then – 'Alright, I don’t have what they have,'" Kendrick said. "I can go run a good lap. But I can't run that lap 150 (times) in a row. I can't do some of the things they can do. "I would love to tell you if I'd had the money … but I don't think so. I maybe could have won a race here or there. But I don't have what Brad (Keselowski) has or Ryan (Blaney) or even Daniel -- I don't have what those guys have. I don't know what it is and I don't know where they get it from, but something's there that just clicks. They have it. This was the next best thing." RELATED: Sustainability goes from top to bottom with Penske, Keselowski Hamlin succeeded, eventually moving on from the small local venues to become a bona fide NASCAR star. Kendrick made his way out, too, but in a slightly different fashion. Kendrick is no anomaly. The NASCAR garage has its share of crew chiefs who raced and then, for one reason or another, eventually hung up their helmets. Crew chiefs Paul Wolfe (Keselowski) and Rodney Childers ( Kevin Harvick ) raced, as did Matt McCall ( Jamie McMurray ) and Greg Ives ( Dale Earnhardt Jr .) There were other stops along the way for most, other tasks to complete and other lessons to be learned. Kendrick's move to the pit box began innocently enough –- Timothy Peters , one of his former rivals from back in the Late Model days – offered him his first crew chief position prior to 2008. The two had worked together previously at Bobby Hamilton Racing (BHR). "I probably learned 75 percent of everything I know about racing from Bobby," Kendrick said of the 2004 Truck Series champion. "He was really good … if you wanted to know, wanted to learn and grow, he was there for you. Very open and just an awesome guy. … "I loved working for him. I actually compare working here to working for Bobby." Other stops followed and their paths wouldn't cross again until Peters called one day with an offer. A partial deal would put Peters on the track and Kendrick on the pit box. "He said, 'By the way, you're going to be the crew chief, the only mechanic, the only guy …" Kendrick said of Peters' proposition. How difficult could that be? Kendrick was about to find out. The two made only a handful of starts in '08 and by the next season, the team added a second truck for a few races just to start and park and stay afloat financially. When NASCAR instituted a new pit procedure rule for the Truck Series in '09, things didn't get any easier. "That was the year that you did pit stops where you couldn't do fuel and tires at the same time," he said. "We never had enough people. I was the crew chief, I would jack on the tire stop, come back, throw the helmet and apron on, and fuel (the truck) during the fuel stop." The saving grace was a midseason call from Red Horse Racing owner Tom DeLoach, who wanted both Peters and Kendrick for his organization. The payoff came a few months later, in late October at Martinsville. Peters led 84 laps en route to his first series victory. It was Kendrick's first win as a crew chief, and remains his most memorable. "One, it was at Martinsville with Timothy," he said. "He and I had been through so much. … Going through all that and to get him his first win just meant a lot. "The win last year (at Bristol Motor Speedway ) with Blaney was the most exciting. It was the most dominant truck I've ever had and special in that as soon as we unloaded for practice, it was 'OK, we’re the truck to beat.' Blaney qualified on the outside of the front row and led the first 37 circuits at Bristol before a penalty for jumping the restart send him to the rear of the field. "Then he drives all the way back through the field and wins the race," Kendrick said. "That one was just really cool. You can be the best truck and you don't win because your crew had a bad stop or something breaks or somebody gets into you … anything. The smallest things can happen. … But Ryan got determined. So that one is up there." Kendrick's six wins have come with five different drivers – Peters, Blaney (2), John King , Parker Kligerman and Joey Logano . "I wanted to give Brad his first (Truck) win," Kendrick said, adding it was a "big battle" between he and fellow Brad Keselowski Racing crew chief Doug Randolph. But it was Randolph calling the shots when the team owner/driver made it to the winner’s circle, also at Bristol in 2014 "Just a couple of weeks ago, Brad gave Joey the truck we won with last year at Martinsville. I told Joey 'Don’t ever run another truck race,'" Kendrick said. "Because I'm probably not going to be known for much of anything, but at least I can tell my grandkids I gave Joey Logano his only truck win.' Doesn’t mean a lot, but …" RELATED: Inside the new Chase format for the series Now, he'll try to add Hemric to his list of winning drivers. Hemric, 25, is in his first season with the organization and sits seventh in points after three races. Teammate Tyler Reddick , 20, is a two-time race winner and driver of the team’s No. 29 with the veteran Randolph calling the shots. He's 16th in points. Next up for the series is the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway (Friday, May 6, 8:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the first of a three-week swing that includes stops at Dover International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway . Kendrick said both drivers are ready to get back on the track. Expectations remain high. "At the front end of the year I would have told you we’d have a win by now," he said. "I really thought we would. We've had brand new trucks all three races. "I know we’ll win a race, both of our guys. I don't think stretch to say we'll win 2-3 in a row, between our teams."
H2H: Will Hendrick or JGR win at Talladega?
This weekend's race at Talladega Superspeedway will bring new excitement, drama and possibly a surprising race winner. Hendrick Motorsports is typically known as the organization to beat at the 2.66-mile track, but the recent domination of Joe Gibbs Racing 's four-car team may threaten the HMS quartet in the battle to top the leaderboard. In the latest Head-to-Head, NASCAR.com's Taylor Starer and Maggie MacKenzie debate which team is more likely to prevail at Talladega. Read their thoughts and vote in the poll below with your opinion. MACKENZIE: Let's get the Talladega weekend going. There's something about 'Dega that makes it so intriguing, from big wrecks to big wins. Now, if there's one thing certain, it's that Hendrick Motorsports and the superspeedway go together perfectly. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., for example, goes into every 'Dega race as the clear favorite thanks to his six wins there -- his winningest track to date. And let's not forget his 12 top fives and 16 top 10s, either. Junior has led multiple laps during each of the last five Sprint Cup races at the Alabama track, so expect the No. 88 to be up front once again and lead. STARER: Dale Jr. always brings it at Talladega, that's no secret. But the success Joe Gibbs Racing has seen this season is proving to be unmatchable. For starters, the four-car Toyota team just swept the month of April, with Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards dominating races at Martinsville, Texas, Bristol and Richmond. Junior and the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports wheelhouse have a strong history at 'Dega, but JGR has some serious momentum this season. I'd be interested to see if Junior's Talladega knowledge is enough to outsmart everything JGR has learned so far this season. MACKENZIE: There's no doubt that the JGR foursome has been on fire lately and whatever ingredients it has been mixing up make for one sweet concoction. With that being said, don't forget that Hendrick has been having success thus far, too. "Six-Time" added two wins to his resume this year at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway , while Kasey Kahne earned a season-best, fourth-place result at last week's Richmond race. And let's not count out rookie Chase Elliott . Elliott is the best newcomer in the Cup field and his back-to-back top-five finishes at Texas and Bristol proved he can outrace the veterans. It's only a matter of time before the 20-year-old wheels that iconic No. 24 to Victory Lane. STARER: All valid points, Maggie. But let's not forget who won this year's Daytona 500 , the only other restrictor-plate race that the Sprint Cup Series has run this season. That's right, Denny Hamlin . And it wasn't Hamlin's first show of superspeedway success. The No. 11 JGR driver saw Victory Lane at the Talladega spring race in 2014, and his teammate Matt Kenseth won there in 2012. You make a good argument with Elliott, but this will be the rookie's first Sprint Cup Series attempt at Talladega, a track known to eat newbies alive. Let's just hope the No. 24 Chevrolet makes it till the end of the 188-lap event with few scratches. MACKENZIE: You make a good point there about Hamlin and the Daytona 500 , Taylor. My mind, however, keeps going back to this race last year. Hamlin earned a respectable ninth-place finish, but who got the 1-2? That would be Junior and Johnson, who led a combined 117 of the 188 laps run that day. Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards finished 25th and 32nd, respectively. Talladega is quite unpredictable, but my money is on a similar finish to 2015. STARER: Ah yes, I was at this race last year and the No. 88's dominance was tough to beat. There's no doubt that Junior's chances of running up front are strong -- I just think JGR's are stronger, especially since Busch is back after missing this race last year. Despite what went down last week at Richmond, the Toyota team seems to be learning as a unit, hence why this team has compiled multiple wins, top-fives and top-10 finishes in 2016. There's not just one superspeedway star at JGR, which improves its odds, and that's what matters most. But, we'll just have to see where the cards fall. After all, it's 'Dega, baby.
Are Dale Jr. and 'Amelia' a Fantasy Live must have?
Marty Snider and Chris Rice tell you if Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 'Amelia' are a sure bet on your NASCAR Fantasy Live roster, after the car was repaired from a crash in the Daytona 500, and look at Matt Kenseth's chances at another Talladega victory.