TALLADEGA RECORD: Still looking for his first top-10 finish. In six starts, his best finish is 12th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola believes "Talladega is a bit of a crapshoot. You go in knowing you have a one in 43 chance of winning the race, but also have a one in 43 chance of ending up on your roof and done for the day. We're right in the thick of it for a Chase position. Although some think it's still early for that, but every race is important. Right now, we're taking advantage of all of them."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola rallied in the final half of the race to finish eighth at Richmond for his third straight top-10 finish, a career best. "That was incredible," said Almirola. "Great day by our guys who never gave up. That is what it takes in this series. At one point we were almost a lap down. We were in big trouble and Todd Parrott (crew chief) made so many adjustments and kept making it better and better and better. There at the end we were a solid top-seven car and I'm really proud of the whole team."
ETC.: Crew chief Todd Parrott is "very proud of the season we've put together so far. If we keep putting ourselves in position for top-10s and keep improving, we'll start posting top-five's and really be in contention to win each week. That's our goal. Talladega is difficult because you really don't know what you are going to get until the last few laps. We just have to give Aric a fast car and try to be in the right place at the right time at the end."
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
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."