By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon remained in first place for the third consecutive week after Richmond. He leads second-ranked Matt Kenseth by five points and third-ranked Carl Edwards by 28 points.
TALLADEGA RECORD: 42 career starts, 6 wins, 15 top-5s, 19 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 1996, spring 2000, spring 2004, spring 2005, spring and fall 2007. Finished 11th in this race last year and was 14th in the fall Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon is still in search of his first win of 2014. But he is atop the points standings because he continues to have consistent runs. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Qualifying this Saturday has the potential to be one of the most exciting sessions of the season. It's definitely going to be a learning experience on where to position yourself to get the best draft with the most speed. You can talk about a plan ahead of time, but that plan may completely change when the session starts."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon led almost half (173) of the 400 laps at Richmond, but couldn't hold off Joey Logano at the end, forcing Gordon to settle for second instead of earning his first win of 2014.
ETC.: Gordon has completed 91.8 percent (7,229) of the 7,877 total laps contested in 42 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 11.6 and average finish is 16.2. He has a career-high nine DNF's there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: For the fourth consecutive week, Matt Kenseth remained in second place in the Sprint Cup standings. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by five points and leads third-ranked Carl Edwards by 23 points.
TALLADEGA RECORD: 28 career starts, 1 wins, 5 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2012. Finished eighth in this race last year and was 20th in last fall's Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth continues to look for his first win of the season, much like points leader Jeff Gordon. Other than last fall's 20th-place showing, Kenseth finished third, first and eighth in the previous three races.
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth led 35 laps but couldn't catch eventual race winner Joey Logano at Richmond, falling back to finish fifth in this past Saturday's race.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed 94.5 percent (5,011) of the 5,304 total laps contested in 28 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 20.5 and his average finish is 17.7. He has four DNFs there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in third-place for the fourth consecutive week in the Sprint Cup standings after Richmond. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 28 points, is 23 points behind second-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads fourth-ranked Kyle Busch by three points.
TALLADEGA RECORD: 19 career starts, 0 win, 2 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in spring 2013. Finished a career-best third in this race last year and was 17th in last fall's Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: In his 20th career Sprint Cup start there, Edwards is looking to finally earn his first win at Talladega. He's come close several times, but luck has not been on his side. Perhaps it will be Sunday.
"One thing about this weekend at Talladega is that qualifying is going to be exciting. If I weren't in it, I would tune in to watch because it will be entertainment. Jimmy (crew chief Jimmy Fennig) and I have discussed this and know it will be three rounds of instant insanity. I have a feeling that it might be more dangerous than the race from a standpoint of tearing the race cars up. I really don't know what to expect. I am glad that we are in the position we are in with points and a win going into this weekend. It's going to be interesting. Our plan is to go for it and put our Fastenal Ford Fusion into Victory Lane."
LOOKING BACK: Edwards had a decent run at Richmond, finishing ninth, the highest-finishing driver from the Roush-Fenway Racing stable.
ETC.: Edwards has completed just 89.6 percent (3,238) of the 3,612 total laps contested in 19 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 13.6 and his average finish is 20.6. He has five DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch gained two places in the standings after Richmond, climbing from sixth to fourth. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 31 points, is three points behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth- ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by one point.
TALLADEGA RECORD: 18 career starts, 1 win, 4 top-5s, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2008. Finished 37th in this race last year and was fifth in the fall Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch, who turns 29 on Friday, has historically struggled at Talladega, which can be seen by his 37th-place finish in this race last year. However, dig deeper into the stats and he's finished second, third and fifth in three of his last four races there. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "It's such a crapshoot there in the last 20, 30 or 40 laps that you never really know who is going to win, what's going to happen and where the wreck is going to come from. The key there is to somehow stay out of trouble. You stay where the pack is, generally, and we get up single file on the wall at times until it's time to go, and you can pretty much run wide open every single lap. ... If you can be a contender and stay in line on the bottom, you can make it a pretty easy and safe race. Normally, guys are not content doing that, so that's when it starts to get crazy."
LOOKING BACK: Busch failed to lead any laps at Richmond, but still had an outstanding race, finishing a close third to former teammates Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon.
ETC.: Busch has completed just 89.4 percent (3,062) of the 3,424 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 20.8 and average finish is an almost identical 21.9. He has five DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Former points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell one position in the standings after Richmond, from fourth to fifth. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 32 points, is one point behind fourth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads sixth-ranked Joey Logano by 17 points.
TALLADEGA RECORD: 28 career starts, 5 wins, 10 top-5s, 14 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2001, spring and fall 2002, spring 2003 and fall 2004. Finished 17th in this race last year and was runner-up in last fall's Chase race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: After dominating at Talladega in the first half of the last decade with five wins in his first 10 starts there (his late father was a 10-time winner at 'Dega), Earnhardt has failed to return to victory lane in the subsequent 18 races there since. But after coming so close in last fall's race there, finishing second, his appetite is whetted to break that nearly 10-year winless drought. Here's his thoughts: "Talladega is really a special racetrack to the sport with the history of it and how it was conceived. The track eventually turned into one of the most impressive and unique, concerning speed, and how the style of racing that you have is so unique, it's just amazing what it has been able to deliver year after year. I enjoy going to Talladega. ... When I was young, out of all the tracks that I had the chance to go to, this was definitely one of my favorites to come to."
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt led seven laps at Richmond but didn't quite have the race car to win it all, settling instead for seventh-place.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 92.9 percent (4,926) of the 5,304 total laps contested in 28 career starts at Talladega. His average start there is 15.2 and average finish is 14.6. He has five DNFs there.
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing