Unlikely pair Earnhardt Jr., Gordon dominate Talladega Superspeedway in the 2000s

Unlikely pair Earnhardt Jr., Gordon dominate Talladega Superspeedway in the 2000s
Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the first driver in Talladega Superspeedway history to record four straight NASCAR premier series triumphs, from 2001 through 2003. The track celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. (ISC Images and Archives via Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series chronicling the creation and history of Talladega Superspeedway, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary during the NASCAR Playoffs doubleheader weekend, featuring the 1000Bulbs.com 500 and Sugarlands Shine 250. Read about the track’s creation, its unusual design and highlights from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, as well as Buddy Baker’s detailed analysis of the track and how to win there. The venue this weekend is debuting the culmination of the Transformation Infield Project presented by Graybar, featuring the Talladega Garage Experience, where fans are immersed into the sport like never before.

The first decade of the 2000s at Talladega Superspeedway (TSS) was dominated by two of the most iconic names in all of sports – Gordon and Earnhardt. In this case, it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. However, Dale Earnhardt Sr. kicked off the 10-year stretch in one of the most exciting finishes in motorsports history.

Jeff Gordon found great success at Talladega during the first decade of the 21st century. (Wikimedia Commons)

Jeff Gordon, a rival with Dale Sr. throughout the mid and late 1990s, was the winner of the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) race at Talladega in the 2000s (April); then he sprinkled four more triumphs in the springs of 2004 and 2005, and a sweep in 2007. His total of six career wins have him in a tie with Dale Jr. for second place on the track’s all-time wins list, four behind the master – Dale Sr. – who accrued 10 triumphs.

Dale Jr. placed his name in the record book by capturing four consecutive TSS wins from fall 2001 through spring 2003. Then, after two straight runner-up results, he came back in October 2004 with yet another victory, making it five total wins on his TSS resume at the time.

Meanwhile, Dale Sr. turned in a finish for the ages. With five laps to go in fall 2000, he was mired in 18th place. Four laps later at the white flag, he had sliced and diced his way to the lead and held off Kenny Wallace to take the checkered flag. The victory, his record-setting 10th at Talladega, was the 76th and final of his career.

That authentic black No. 3 Chevrolet of Dale Sr.’s will lead the field for two parade pre-pace laps after engines are fired in this weekend’s 1000Bulbs.com 500. As part of Talladega Superspeedway’s 50th-anniversary celebration, it will be driven by Dale’s Sr.’s longtime car owner Richard Childress, who made his Talladega debut as a NASCAR premier series driver at the grand opening weekend of Alabama International Motor Speedway, today known as Talladega Superspeedway, in 1969.

Many other great events happened at the track from 2000 through 2009:

  • Oct. 6, 2002: Dale Jr.’s sweep of both events in ’02 is one of seven official TSS sweeps in history. It’s the second caution-free race in four events at Talladega Superspeedway (spring 2001, Bobby Hamilton winner).
  • April 6, 2003: Dale Jr. concludes his four-race winning streak at Talladega, breaking the record of three straight by Buddy Baker from spring 1975 to spring 1976.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent so much time and enjoyed so much success at Talladega Superspeedway that he called the track a “second home.” (File)

    June 4, 2004: With an unrestricted engine during an unofficial test, Rusty Wallace averages a lap of 216.306 mph, hitting a top speed of 228 mph at the end of the Alabama Gang Superstretch. The test is for radio communications, gathering info for high-quality audio at high rates of speed.

  • Sept. 1-2, 2005: History is both made and remembered when David Donohue and “The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno set a series of Grand American speed records at the track, driving a Porsche Carrera GT production car. David is the son of Mark Donohue, who set a similar series of records in a Porsche here three decades ago. The younger Donohue set three flying speed records in the production category, including a closed-course speed record at the 2.66-mile track of 196.301 mph. Donohue also sets records for the measured mile at 198.971 mph and the measured kilometer at 195.755 mph. Leno set three standing-start speed records in the same car, the fastest being 156.603 mph over the closed-course.
  • Oct. 2, 2005: Dale Jarrett concludes the event weekend in storybook fashion, putting a Ford in Gatorade Victory Lane for the first time in seven years. Statisticians record 50 lead changes in the race, the most all season as Jarrett has his final career triumph.
  • Oct. 8, 2006: On the last lap, third-place Brian Vickers gets into the back of second-place Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who then bumps leader Dale Jr. The front duo spin, handing Vickers his first career win.
  • Oct. 7, 2007: Jeff Gordon gets his sixth and final win at Talladega Superspeedway over teammate Johnson by .066 seconds, giving car owner Rick Hendrick his tenth win at the track. It is the 77th career win for Gordon, who passes Dale Sr. on the NASCAR all-time wins list.
  • The 2000s was such an eventful decade at Talladega that “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno was among the drivers setting records there. (file)

    Oct. 5, 2008: A Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series record 28 drivers exchange the lead 64 times, in a race where Tony Stewart claims his first Cup Series victory at the 2.66-mile track by 0.052 second over Paul Menard. In a controversial finish, Stewart crosses the finish line second, but NASCAR officials determine that Regan Smith illegally passes Stewart below the yellow out-of-bounds line.

  • April 26, 2009: Brad Keselowski wins in only his fifth career MENCS start. In the process, he gives veteran car owner James Finch his first MENCS victory.
  • April 26, 2009: In homage to “Talladega Nights,” on the final lap Carl Edwards climbs out of his wrecked automobile after Brad Keselowski makes contact with his car. Edwards went airborne, slammed hard into the catch fence and skidded to a stop about 100 feet from the finish line. After he climbs out of his car, he jogs to the finish line to a standing ovation from the crowd. NASCAR on Fox play-by-play commentator Mike Joy comments how it was “shades of Ricky Bobby.”
  • Nov. 1, 2009: After leading the most laps all day, Jamie McMurray scores his first Cup Series win at Talladega after a green-white-checkered finish.
  • Other driver victories: Michael Waltrip (2003), Johnson (2006) and Kyle Busch (2008).

The tradition continues at the Palace of Speed this weekend. For ticket information and to learn more about the Talladega Garage Experience, log onto www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE (7223).

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