By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in first place for the fourth straight week after Richmond. He leads second-ranked Carl Edwards by 43 points and third-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 46 points.
TALLADEGA RECORD: 22 career starts, 2 wins, 5 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: first in spring 2006 and spring 2011. Finished 35th in the spring race last year (engine problems), and was 17th there in the fall.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson continues to have the best car in the Cup series and is among the favorites to win again at Talladega this Sunday. Talladega also holds good memories for crew chief Chad Knaus, who early in his career worked as a fabricator and mechanic for Stanley Smith Motorsports in Chelsea, Ala., in 1991. Here's Knaus's thoughts: "I honestly love going to Talladega. It's a great racetrack and one I remember from my childhood. I used to come here with Stanley Smith years and years and years ago, and we would focus so much effort into this racetrack. Superspeedway racing is probably what got me my start in motorsports, so I really do look forward to coming back to Talladega."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson typically does well at Richmond, but just didn't have the right car this past Saturday, settling for a 12th-place finish.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 93.6 percent (3,906) of the 4,172 total laps contested in 22 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 10.2 and average finish is 17.7. He has a career-high eight DNFs there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards climbed four spots, from sixth to second place, after Richmond. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 43 points and is three points ahead of a third-ranked tie between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne.
TALLADEGA RECORD: 17 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fifth in fall 2005. Finished 31st in last year's spring race and was 36th in the fall race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Without question, Talladega has been one of Edwards' worst tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit. But there's cause for optimism in this Sunday's Aaron's 499 because Edwards is in second place in the standings and has lots of momentum. The key is to stay out of trouble there. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "We'd love to get our first superspeedway win as a team. (Crew chief) Jimmy Fennig was able to win two of these speedway races with Matt Kenseth last year, so I feel like I have the best guy on the box that I could have. We've got a fast race car, our mission is to be there on the last lap in position to win. ... As long as we don't wreck five cars like we did in Daytona I think it will be a success. We want to come out of there in a good spot in points, second is nice and we don't want to fall any lower than that."
LOOKING BACK: Edwards had a strong outing at Richmond, finishing sixth and allowing him to climb four positions in the standings, to second place.
ETC.: Edwards has completed just 88.4 percent (2,858) of the 3,232 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 14.9 and average finish is 21.8. He has five DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved up two positions after Richmond and into a tie for third place with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne. The pair trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 46 points, are three points behind second-ranked Carl Edwards and lead fifth-ranked Clint Bowyer by seven points.
TALLADEGA RECORD: 26 career starts, 5 wins, 9 top-fives, 13 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2001, spring 2002, fall 2002, spring 2003 and fall 2004. Finished ninth in the spring race there last year, and was 20th in the fall race.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt returns to the same place where he suffered a concussion on the final lap of last fall's race. The concussion knocked him out of the next two races and ended his hopes for a strong overall finish in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Talladega is by far Earnhardt's most successful track with five career Cup wins there, but remember that he hasn't won there in nine seasons. It's time to do so again. Here are his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Talladega is a lottery because the guy who wins has done something right and earned it. You just really don't have quite as much control over your own destiny here as you do at other racetracks. And I think that will always be the case. But some guys are making it work. Somebody's going to win the race, and I want to be that guy."
LOOKING BACK: You have to give Earnhardt credit. He kept fighting his car and the track at Richmond, yet when it counted the most, he managed to finish with a 10th-place showing. Not bad for a night that could have been worse.
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 92.3 percent (4,546) of the 4,924 total laps contested in 26 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 15.6 and average finish is 15.0. He has five DNFs there.
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Kasey Kahne fell one spot after Richmond and into a third-place tie with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. The pair trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 46 points, are three points behind second-ranked Carl Edwards and lead fifth-ranked Clint Bowyer by seven points.
TALLADEGA RECORD: 18 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-five, 4 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: Second in fall 2006 and second in fall 2009. Finished fourth in last year's spring race, and was 12th in the fall race there (including winning the pole).
LOOKING AHEAD: Even with winning the pole last fall, Talladega has not been very hospitable to Kahne over his Sprint Cup career. He's hoping to change that this Sunday. Here are his thoughts: "I race. That's all I really want to do is race cars. I've been able to my whole life, and I enjoy it. I love every bit of it. To be able to think about racing each week, whether we're doing appearances or testing or whatever it may be during the week and then you get to go and race a Sprint Cup car on Saturday or Sunday from here until the end of November, I'm loving what's going on."
LOOKING BACK: After finishing runner-up the week before at Kansas, Kahne struggled to a 21st-place finish Saturday night at Richmond.
ETC.: Kahne has completed just 87.9 percent (3,006) of the 3,420 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 23.6 and average finish is 20.3. He has two DNFs there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer climbed four spots, from ninth to fifth after Richmond. He is 53 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, trails the third-ranked tie of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne by seven points and leads sixth-ranked Brad Keselowski by six points.
TALLADEGA RECORD: 14 career starts, 2 wins, 4 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2010 and fall 2011. Finished sixth in last year's spring race and was 23rd in the fall race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer would love to earn his first restrictor plate win at Talladega this Sunday. Here are his thoughts about racing there: "Talladega is like rolling the dice at a craps table - how do you do it, when you do it - are you going to get on a roll? I mean, that's exactly the way it is. Everybody has a shot at winning. Everybody has the same dice. You just have to have a lucky roll, lucky push and just get up there. That's really what it's come down to."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer had a very strong run and finish at Richmond, finishing runner-up to winner Kevin Harvick. It was Bowyer's second top-five showing in a week, having ending up fifth at Kansas.
ETC.: Bowyer has completed just 84.4 percent (2,245) of the 2,660 total laps contested in 14 career starts at Talladega. His average start is 18.7 and average finish is 16.1. He has three DNFs there.
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski continued his downward spiral in the standings at Richmond. After three weeks in second place, he fell one position to third after Kansas and three spots after Saturday's race at Richmond, dropping to sixth place. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 59 points, fifth-ranked Clint Bowyer by six points and leads seventh-ranked Kyle Busch by six points.