Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 26 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots to fall out of the top 10.
TALLADEGA RECORD: One win and six top-10 finishes including five top-five's in 21 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "Finishing good at Talladega seems to always be just a matter of luck. You have to be in the right place at the right time. The last race there we led more laps than anyone and ended up 34th at the finish after getting wrecked with about five laps to go. If we can come out of Talladega with a good finish for our McDonald's team, I will feel real good about the next several races and where we are in the point's picture. I know we will have a good car this weekend, we just need to have good luck along the way."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray gambled and lost at Richmond. He elected not to pit during the last caution flag of the race and was second at the start of the green-white-checkered flag finish. But he quickly got pushed out of the groove and fell all the way to 26th. "We took a chance at the end and it didn't work out," said McMurray in the understatement of the week. "We were just never able to stay consistent tonight. I am really happy for our teammate (Juan Pablo Montoya) and all of the guys on the Target team," added McMurray. Montoya finished fourth.
ETC.: When it comes to the 2014 season and whether or not he has a contract with Ganassi, McMurray is quick to say, "I don't really have a comment on anything for next year. I'm focused on what we're doing now. I've really tried hard not to talk about the length of my contract or when you resign one. I feel like the media takes a lot of that and runs with it and seems to use imagination to make more than what is fact."
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 30 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot.
TALLADEGA RECORD: Won the fall race after finishing third in the spring event.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth said, "The key to success at the superspeedways is always to have a fast car. We had a really great car to start off the year in the Daytona 500, and led a lot of laps, so I feel really good heading into Talladega this weekend. There haven't been any rules changes since Daytona so I think it's going to be a track position race."
LOOKING BACK: After winning his second straight pole position for the first time in his career, Kenseth led three times for 140 laps. But his car wasn't as strong in the second half of the race as he ended the night in seventh place. "It was up and down," said Kenseth. "In the beginning, we were real strong and in the middle of the race we probably had a fifth to sixth-place car or something like that. That last restart, just being on the outside and the 78 (Kurt Busch) drove up through there and knocked my whole side off and put me in the marbles. If he's going to run you all over and clobber you, he's got to expect something back. I thought that (pushing him out of the way on the last lap) was pretty mild."
ETC.: Car owner Joe Gibbs understands his team must be penalized for its engine infraction at Kansas. But he is appealing the "severity of the penalties." The appeal will be heard May 8. Kenseth also believes "the penalties are grossly unfair. I think its borderline shameful." The penalty that bothers Kenseth the most is the one that says Gibbs cannot earn any car owner points for six races. "Certainly to crush Joe Gibbs like that and say they can't win an owner's championship with the 20 car, I just can't wrap my arms around that," adds Kenseth. "It just blows me away."
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 36 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
TALLADEGA RECORD: Finished second in the fall 2012 race. Has six wins and 19 top-10 finishes including 15 top-five's in 40 starts. Has won the pole for the last two spring races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon is the all-time leader in restrictor-plate victories with 12. But he is still "very anxious" about this weekend and the second restrictor-plate race of the year. "In Daytona, I feel like we learned a lot about being patient and picking and choosing our moments to try to makes passes," said Gordon. "The unknown is with this bigger, wider track (Talladega), are we going to be able to complete those passes that we weren't able to earlier this year at Daytona?"
LOOKING BACK: Gordon finished 11th at Richmond. "Those last two laps were crazy, with different strategies - some guys staying out, some taking two tires while some of us took four - it was just three and four-wide and do whatever you can to make the pass," said Gordon. "We missed the set-up early, but we made good changes and fought hard to get the finish we did."
ETC.: Gordon doesn't feel the strict penalties handed down by NASCAR against Matt Kenseth and his team will have an effect on the performance of the 20 team. "The thing is that Matt and his team, they are a rock solid team," said Gordon. "They have been showing it this whole year and continue to. To me, whatever happened this past week is not going to affect how those guys perform going forward."
56 MARTIN TRUEX JR., Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 40 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.
TALLADEGA RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 16 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Truex knows this is an important weekend in his bid to qualify for the Chase for the Championship again in 2013. "We've got to stay out of trouble and get a good finish," said Truex. "That is hard to do at Talladega. There is so much luck involved. I know we'll have a good car; we just need to avoid all the trouble and get us a solid finish. If we can do that, I'll think we'll be in good shape (in his bid to make the Chase)."
LOOKING BACK: Truex was running second with 55 laps to go when he was clipped by Kurt Busch and sent spinning to end any hopes Truex had of a top-10 finish. Instead, he ended the night in 17th place. "He (Busch) had me hooked on the straightaway and was kind of driving me down the straightaway a little bit and I had no intention of cutting down on him going into (turn) three, but he had me jacked up the whole way. When he let off, my car got on the left rear and went straight and then I got up in the marbles and then I just had to spin it out. He didn't need to do that. It's a shame to get where we were and get spun. I'll remember if we get in that position again what I'll do to Kurt."
ETC.: Truex believes all three MWR cars "will be fast at Talladega. Both Michael (Waltrip) and Clint (Bowyer) know what it takes to win there. Maybe this time it will be my turn (to drive into victory lane). It sure would be nice if we could hook up together and stay up front all day."
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 42 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
TALLADEGA RECORD: Finished ninth in the race last fall. Overall has eight top-10 finishes including four top-five's in 22 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "I wouldn't say I dread coming to Talladega. It's not my favorite race track, but I don't say I dread it. I love driving a race car, even at Talladega. I think the difference is there's more potential to get involved in something out of your making there, and that's frustrating to me. But that's not just me. Everyone hopes they can avoid the big crash there."
LOOKING BACK: Newman battled an ill-handling race car all night as he finished 15th at Richmond. "It was a long, challenging night," said Newman. "We didn't hit on what we needed to with our Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet," said Newman. "Matt Borland (crew chief) and the guys kept working on it all night, and we made some improvements on it, but we never got it where we needed it to be."
ETC.: When asked what it takes to get a good finish at Talladega, Newman smiled as he said, "I wish I knew the answer to that. We've been on the short end of the stick at Talladega for the past few years. To be successful at Talladega, you've got to keep yourself in the hunt so you can be there at the end. If you have a good car, you can stay toward the front all day. If you don't, you have to put yourself in a position that will allow you to be in the best possible position at the end. It's as simple, or as complex, as that."
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 43 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week.
TALLADEGA RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in eight starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: When it comes to restrictor-plate racing, "some people really like it and some people don't," said Logano. "That's just part of the nature of restrictor-plate racing. I really enjoy it and I feel like I've become adaptable to it since I started (five years ago). The worst part about it is that you only control part of your own destiny. When you are out there racing in a pack, your day can be ruined by someone else's mistake. We've all had it happen to us."
LOOKING BACK: Logano rallied in the final 100 laps to finish third at Richmond. "It wasn't pretty, that's for sure," said Logano. "It looked like at the beginning of the race we were going to finish 20th. We were going backwards, but (crew chief) Todd Gordon made some good adjustments and got some speed back in the car. We put four tires on it (during the late-race caution) and got in the right lane on that restart and I think that's what meant a lot. To take a race that was going like that and be able to change it over and come home third, I couldn't be more proud of these Shell/Pennzoil guys."