Waltrip Returns to NASCAR Action
Weekend Preview: Aaron’s 499
by Blake Smith and Moon Mullins
Campgrounds at Talladega Superspeedway began filling up on Monday in preparation for this Sunday’s Aaron’s 499. The facilities at Talladega are known for some of the wildest activity both on and off of the track. Fans travel from all around the country to be a part of Talladega action!
Formerly known as Alabama International Motorspeedway, the 2.66 mile oval held its first race in September of 1969. During the 1960’s, Bill France wanted to open a track that was faster and longer than Daytona International Speedway. The first race at the Alabama track was documented as a race unlike any other. After turning blistering speeds in what drivers thought were unsafe driving conditions, all the drivers at the track abandoned the speedway and race promoters had to hire substitute drivers to fill their seats. The race ended with three cars finishing side by side with Richard Brickhouse winning the first race at the track.
This weekend’s events provide a different schedule for participating teams. NASCAR scheduled two practices for today in preparation for Saturday’s qualifying session. In the past, teams have used the first practice to make single car runs to prepare a qualifying setup and then run in group drafts during the second practice to simulate Sunday’s race conditions. Each team will have a different agenda for today’s practices, so it will be hard to tell who is fast by just looking at the practice charts.
44 teams are entered for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499. # 45 driver Mike Bliss removed himself from the entry list earlier this week. Trevor Bayne will return to the track this weekend in the #21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing as they make their start on a part-time schedule. Elliott Sadler will be making his second attempt at a Sprint Cup Series start this weekend piloting the #81 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Past Series Champion, Terry Labonte will be driving Frank Stoddard’s #32 Ford. On a local note, Owensboro’s Michael Waltrip will return to the driver’s seat this weekend as he drives the #55 Aaron’s Toyota commemorating Alabama’s National Championship.
In other NASCAR headlines from the week, Penske Racing’s penalty was upheld following their appeal after the hearing on Tuesday. Roger Penske plans to make a final appeal to NASCAR’s 49 member appeal board following Talladega. Joe Gibbs Racing’s appeal is scheduled to take place on Tuesday following their penalties issued at Kansas Speedway.
Denny Hamlin has received medical clearance to return to the driver’s seat for this weekend’s race. Hamlin, who was sidelined following an accident earlier in the season at Auto Club Speedway plans to start the race and let Brian Vickers get in the car at first chance to prevent any further injury. Since Hamlin is starting the race, he will receive the points earned during Sunday’s event. Hamlin hopes to make a full return next week at Darlington.
Tony Stewart’s team will be bringing back the Bass Pro Shops colors this weekend as he will be driving the same chassis he competed with back in Daytona in the Sprint Unlimited. Danica Patrick will be going to Talladega with the same car she finished eighth with in the Daytona 500 after sitting on the pole. Danica will also be competing in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega, which can be heard on WOMI and 1490womi.com at 12:30.
As mentioned earlier, Michael Waltrip will be returning to the driver’s seat from his usual spot in the broadcast booth. Michael and the #55 team will be commemorating the University of Alabama’s NCAA Football championship with a special paint scheme. Waltrip, who has an excellent history as a superspeedway driver, is my pick for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 while Moon always chooses
Sunday’s coverage of the Aaron’s 499 can be heard beginning at 11 A.M. on WBKR and WBKR.com! Don’t forget to tune into our buddy, Eli Gold at 6pm on Tuesday for NASCAR Live!