Earnhardt Jr. confounded by track he once dominated

Earnhardt Jr. has five wins at Talladega but none since 2004

In Earnhardt’s five Talladega wins, he never led less than 34 laps. But since his last win in 2004 — where he was infamously fined for cursing during a victory lane interview — Earnhardt has led more than 34 laps just twice in 17 races.

He also has just four top-10 finishes in that span, which at one time soured him on Talladega racing.

dale-earnhardt-jr_small Earnhardt Jr. confounded by track he once dominated

But now, after NASCAR largely eliminated the tandem drafting and has seemingly restored pack racing, Earnhardt appears to have a better outlook.

“I feel like we haven’t got the job done and this is a place where I feel like I should know what I’m doing and should be able to go out there and get a great result every time,” he said. “It hasn’t been going great here, as great as I want it to go here lately. We have torn up a lot of cars and been frustrated most times when we leave here. I still come back as confident and excited about the opportunities as ever.”

Earnhardt said it’s up to him to adapt to the various aerodynamic packages that have been used with a variety of cars since he won here five times in three years. While his confidence and determination hasn’t changed, he said, his decision-making hasn’t been paying off as often.

When he finished 17th in the May race here, Earnhardt was never a contender. He failed to lead a lap for the first time since 2005.

To make matters worse, Earnhardt hasn’t led a single lap at a restrictor-plate track all season.

“I just want to have a shot at it,” he said. “We haven’t really even done that. Every time we have had these late restarts, we have been in the back or outside the top 10 or just things haven’t gone the way we need them to go at … to be up close to the front to make a move at the last few laps. That is the goal this weekend.”

Wonder Bread to sponsor Kurt Busch’s car at Talladega

Until now, Wonder Bread had only been a fictional NASCAR sponsor.

Ricky Bobby drove the No. 26 Wonder Bread car to great success in Talladega Nights (“If you ain’t first, you’re last”) until a vicious crash left him sidelined and unable to continue racing for awhile (“I’m on fire! Help me, Tom Cruise!”).

Anyway, Wonder Bread is sponsoring a real Sprint Cup Series car in Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway: Kurt Busch’s No. 78 Chevrolet.

wonder-bread_small Earnhardt Jr. confounded by track he once dominated

Wonder Bread, which was sold as part of the Hostess bankruptcy, recently relaunched with new ownership.

“The fans know that at Talladega, the Talladega Nights movie is part of the way of life here at the track,” Busch told reporters on Friday.

Busch, who last year ran a movie-themed “Me” car (complete with a stuffed cougar), has been big on bringing racing movies to real life. He drove Cole Trickle’s City Chevrolet car from Days of Thunder at a Daytona Nationwide Series race in July.

In the previous two film-related crossovers, Busch embraced the characters and recited movie lines during the race.

This time, though, he’s in the middle of NASCAR’s playoffs – the Chase for the Sprint Cup – so there won’t be as much time for fun.

“We’re Chase-focused and that’s what we’re here to do,” Busch said. “There might be some slips of the tongue – ‘I want to go fast’ and ‘Slingshot engaged’ – but we’re not going to have the full lines rehearsed.”

Busch said his only regret was that Ricky Bobby wouldn’t have a Jean Girard on track to play his rival.

“We should have gotten Michael Waltrip to do the Perrier car,” Busch said. “He told us he wanted to do it next time we did a stunt like this and we didn’t get it teamed up exactly right. We should have.”