The Callahan Report: Earnhardt's Chances Good at Talladega

23 April 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel

TALLADEGA, AL: Readjust your pacemakers folks. After racing on the shortest and tightest NASCAR track last weekend, the heros of America's premier racing series will be blurring past the TV cameras this weekend on the fastest and longest Winston Cup track. Talladega Super Speedway is not for those with weak stomachs. White knuckles and complete concentration are mandatory.

There are two tracks on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit which require the use of restrictor plates (as a means to slow the cars). The Daytona 500 was ran in February using restrictor plates. Talladega will be the second test of the restrictor plate setup.

Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt

Based on his performance at Daytona earlier this year, Dale Earnhardt is the favorite heading into Talladega. Reduced flow/horsepower is not Earnhardt's favorite way the race, but he has adjusted to it well. Earnhardt will be primed to win at the track that nearly beat him a couple of years ago. Earnhardt was injured in the summer of 96 at Talladega. The injuries were bad enough that he was only able to complete six laps in the next race, the 1996 Brickyard 400. Earnhardt knows this track. He found victory lane at the 1994 DieHard 500. He could easily find it again this Sunday.

Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte will be a strong challenger in Talladega. He came close to putting his Interstate Batteries Pontiac in front of Earnhardt's Chevrolet Monte Carlo at Daytona. If it had been the Daytona 505 instead of the Daytona 500, Labonte would have quite possibly won NASCAR's showcase event. Labonte may get his revenge in Talladega.

Another driver who comes to the front at any restrictor plate race is John Andretti. Driving for Cale Yarborough last year, Andretti started this race from the pole. He drove to a fourth place finish. Andretti is driving for Richard Petty Enterprises in 98. Expect big things from the Indianapolis, Indiana native this weekend. He has a knack for the big tracks. Andretti's only Winston Cup victory came in a restrictor plate race (Pepsi 400, Daytona, 1997).

Week after week, the duo of Rusty Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield are at the front of the pack. It will be no different this time around. Wallace and Mayfield finished together in the top five at the last restrictor plate track. They may finish even higher this week given the few races of additional experience. Mayfield is second in the Winston Cup points behind Wallace. Both are winless so far in 1998, but their consistent performances have "championship" written all over them. Both are long overdue for a visit to victory lane.

Jeff Gordon
There is another power team lurking around the Talladega asphalt. Hendrick racing's Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte will be contenders this weekend. Gordon led much of this race last year but dropped to 5th at the finish. His popular and talented teammate, Terry Labonte, is a threat from anywhere. Labonte started 36th last year. He ended up one spot behind Gordon at the finish. Gordon has two wins already this season. Labonte is still searching for a way to the winner's circle in 1998. One of the Hendrick Racing drivers could find their way to that precious piece of real estate called "victory lane" this Sunday.

The action at Talladega will be fast and furious. Excitement is the key word. Who better to be the darkhorse pick this week than Mr. Excitement himself, Jimmy Spencer? He loves the high speed tracks. Spencer has already found success this year using the restrictor plate setup. He won the "last chance" race to get into the Bud Shootout in Daytona at the beginning of the season. Spencer is capable. He started 20th in this race last year. He moved up to seventh at the finish.

Track Facts: The sleek machines will race for 188 laps on the 2.6 mile high banked track. The drivers will be racing for a total purse of more than $2.1 million. Last year, the race had no caution periods. It was the first time in history the race was ran without a caution.

Callahan's picks for Talladega:

1. Dale Earnhardt
2. Bobby Labonte
3. Jeremy Mayfield
4. Rusty Wallace
5. Jeff Gordon

Darkhorse: Jimmy Spencer

Callahan's picks for last week: (Actual winner, Bobby Hamilton)

Winner: Rusty Wallace (finished 6th)
Darkhorse: Kenny Wallace (finished 22nd)

Current Winston Cup Points Standings

Rank  Driver             Points  Starts   Wins

 1    Rusty Wallace       1191      8       0
 2    Jeremy Mayfield     1158      8       0
 3    Terry Labonte       1086      8       0
 4    Jeff Gordon         1085      8       2
 5    Dale Jarrett        1085      8       1
 6    Mark Martin         1055      8       2
 7    Bill Elliott        1054      8       0
 8    Dale Earnhardt      1025      8       1
 9    Ken Schrader         964      8       0
10    Jeff Burton          942      8       0
11    Bobby Labonte        940      8       1
12    Michael Waltrip      930      8       0
13    Bobby Hamilton       915      8       1
14    Jimmy Spencer        909      8       0
15    Ted Musgrave         906      8       0
16    Johnny Benson        892      7       0
17    Ward Burton          867      8       0
18    Chad Little          845      7       0
19    Brett Bodine         842      8       0
20    Steve Grissom        786      8       0
21    Ernie Irvan          782      8       0
22    Dick Trickle         768      8       0
23    John Andretti        762      8       0
24    Robert Pressley      727      8       0
25    Lake Speed           704      8       0
26    Geoff Bodine         672      8       0
27    Kyle Petty           671      8       0
28    Kenny Irwin          643      8       0
29    Ricky Rudd           632      8       0
30    Rick Mast            630      8       0
31    Sterling Marlin      621      7       0
32    Kenny Wallace        575      7       0
33    Joe Nemechek         559      7       0
34    Mike Skinner         537      7       0
35    David Green          499      7       0
36    Darrell Waltrip      470      8       0
37    Kevin Lepage         466      7       0
38    Jerry Nadeau         450      6       0
39    Randy Lajoie         426      4       0
40    Derrike Cope         422      6       0
41    Ricky Craven         403      4       0
42    Greg Sacks           400      7       0
43    Todd Bodine          343      4       0
44    Jeff Green           340      4       0
45    Hut Stricklin        315      6       0
46    Morgan Shepherd      221      2       0
47    Wally Dallenbach, Jr 201      3       0
48    Dave Marcis          134      2       0
49    Gary Bradberry       125      2       0
50    Steve Park           110      2       0
51    Mike Wallace          94      1       0
52    Andy Hillenburg       76      1       0
53    Billy Standridge      58      1       0
54    Rich Bickle           40      1       0
Editors Note: The images displayed in this article (plus many more) can be viewed in The Racing Image Galleries and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.

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