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TALLADEGA RACE BIG FOR EARNHARDT.

Byline: TIM HADDOCK MOTOR SPORTS

Dale Earnhardt Jr. used to be the King of Talladega. He won five races there, swept both races in 2002, and won at least once between 2001 and 2004.

But lately things haven't worked out so well for Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, site of Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race, and one of two restrictor-plate tracks on the schedule.

He did not finish the past two Talladega races. He was 40th in last year's race and was 31st in May.

To listen to him talk about it, Earnhardt Jr. would almost prefer to struggle at the restrictor-plate tracks and finish better elsewhere.

``There's only four plate races on the circuit,'' said Junior, driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Dale Earnhardt Inc. ``When we were dominant there, we got crap for not being good anywhere else. So I'd give it up to be running good at all these two-mile tracks, like we have this year.''

He might want to think twice about that and call upon those Talladega ghosts to get him through one more race.

Junior is seventh in the Chase standings, 123 points behind leader Jeff Burton, and could use a strong finish to get back in the hunt for the Cup championship.

There was a time when the DEI cars were so dominant at the plate tracks, it wasn't a matter of if they would finish strong, but by how much of a margin would they win.

``Going into Talladega, I mean, it's important that we run good because it's in the Chase,'' Earnhardt Jr. said. ``It's a part of the championship. It doesn't really matter that it's a restrictor-plate track to me. I don't really care to be the most dominant restrictor plate team out there. I want to run good everywhere.''

For the most part, Earnhardt Jr. has. The California Speedway race in September is a great example. Never a strong finisher at Fontana, Earnhardt Jr. was second and had a chance to win the race when some of the leaders sputtered across the finish line on empty fuel tanks.

A strong season planted Earnhardt Jr. firmly in the Chase. But now he is bunched with five drivers who are more than 100 points out of first and at the bottom of the Chase standings.

Burton is starting to distance himself from the bottom half of the Chase field. But Junior is far from admitting he's out of the Chase yet.

``Well, I mean, Jeff Burton's no superhero,'' Earnhardt Jr. said. ``He's not invincible. He can have bad luck just like anybody else. Within one race, six or seven of us can be right back in it.''

That looks like what it's going to take. Burton needs a bad race and drivers like Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch need a good one.

``I mean, there's a lot of racing left,'' Earnhardt Jr. said. ``You know, if there's two races to go now, I'd sort of have the same feeling. But we got a lot of racing left and anything can happen to Jeff Burton or anybody else, for that matter.''

Victory for Holmes was on tap

Eric Holmes won the first NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series, race of his career Saturday night at Thunder Hill Raceway in Texas.

Holmes, the West Series points leader from Escalon, made a last-lap pass on Mike David for the lead. The two cars touched and David spun out.

``I was a little disappointed in the way it all ended up,'' Holmes said. ``I got a good run off of two. It was back out or go for it and hopefully the lapped car would give us room, but he didn't. I apologize. I didn't want to win one like that. Mike and I are good friends. He's probably going to be mad.''

David, who led the most laps in the race, recovered from the last-lap spin and finished fifth.

Holmes has a 47-point lead in the West Series standings over David with one race to go.

The last race of the West Series schedule is Oct. 15 at Altamont Motorsports Park in Tracy.

Irwindale Speedway

The Cisco Burger World Figure 8 Championships will be at Irwindale Speedway on Saturday night.

Drivers will be racing in a 60-minute figure 8 race for a $10,000 first-place prize.

The NASCAR Late Model 100-lap Open Invitational, Super Trucks, Mini Stocks and Pure Stocks are also scheduled to race Saturday night.

Gates open at 4 p.m. Races start at 7.

NASCAR Busch Series

As expected, California Speedway will host two NASCAR Busch Series races in 2007.

NASCAR announced its Busch Series schedule Monday. There are 34 races on the schedule, with 26 of those dates accompanying Cup Series races.

The Busch Series will be at California Speedway the same weekends as the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. The first Busch Series race in Feb. 24 and the second is Sept. 1.

The Busch Series also added an another international date to its schedule. It will visit Mexico in March and Canada in August.

This will be the third Busch Series race in Mexico at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on March 4.

The series will be making its first visit to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal on Aug. 4.

CAPTION(S):

photo, 5 boxes

Photo:

Dale Earhardt Jr. has won before at Talladega Superspeedway, and will need more success there Sunday to stay in Chase contention.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Box:

(1) NASCAR NEXTEL CUP

(2) NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCKS

(3) FORMULA ONE

(4) NHRA

- Associated Press

(5) Etc.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 5, 2006
Words:940
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