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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Just A Number: Talladega 5/12

What do numbers really mean? Most of us talk about numbers in racing all the time but rarely look inside or behind those numbers. For instance, every member of Junior Nation has something with an 88 on it, but few know that the number 88 has been used by 5 champions (Darrell Waltrip, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Bobby Allison, and Buddy Baker) and other racing greats such as Al Unser Sr., Ricky Rudd, and even Richard Childress. There is definitely a lot of history behind the 88.

With that said, there are many numbers being thrown around in NASCAR over the last few weeks that need to be looked at a bit closer. For one, the current Hendrick Motorsports losing streak is at 15 heading into the spring race at Talladega. Attached to that number is the fact that HMS is still looking for its 200th win.   The last time HMS had a 15 race losing skid was a stretch from late 2002 to early 2003 when Gordon won at Martinsville.  Interesting tidbit: the race before Gordon broke the losing streak was Talladega, and the winner was DEI driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Many are saying that this week is when several streaks will be broken, including Junior's losing streak, HMS's losing streak, and HMS's 200th win will be posted.  I am not certain, nor should anyone be, due to the totally random nature of Talladega.  I do thing, however, that HMS has a better chance of winning than any other team.  For instance, in the 16 races at Talladega from 2000 to 2007, 11 of the wins came from Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson.  In fact, the three of them have a total of 13 wins at the track.  Therefore, the return to a more "pack-like" style of racing at the restrictor plate tracks will suite these drivers well.

It is important, though, to look at the cause behind the 15 race losing skid for HMS.  I will leave the Junior winless streak for a book as it is too much for a little article.  I believe that although the strength of Roush and Gibbs is partly the cause, there are some issues at HMS that have left the door open for other teams.  First, the relationship between Johnson and crew chief Knaus at the end of last season was cool at best.  They both knew they were about to lose the Sprint Cup for the first time in 6 years and neither relished the thought.  Along with some time and space (from each other) in the off season also comes a few missteps in the new season.

Second, the new teams that were formed for the 88 and 24 last year are still ironing out everything.  Although Gordon had some strong runs last year, as did Junior, the two teams are close, but not yet at their full potential.  And third, the 5 team should be sponsored by a Mr. Murphy.  His law has governed almost every race for Kasey Kahne this year.

Although these teams ALL have their issues, it is just a matter of time before one of them visits victory lane.  In fact, I feel certain that all four, even Kahne, will win races this year, most likely multiple races.  The question for this week is will the magic number be 2 or 1.  Will it be one driver's ability to pick lanes and build momentum, or will a team of two drivers have to win this week?



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