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NASCAR leaves fisticuffs of Richmond behind and heads to high banks of Talladega

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As the South deals with the effects of severe storms, NASCAR is keeping a close eye on the weather forecast as they prepare for their twice yearly pilgrimage to the hallowed ground that is the Talladega Superspeedway for the Aaron's sponsored weekend of racing. As second restrictor-plate race of the year, teams are hoping that their luck will change one way or the other on the high banks of the Alabama track.

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In the first race since being put on probation for his post race altercation with Marcos Ambrose, Casey Mears and his well documented drafting skills believes that he will find himself at the front of the field.

"We always run well and have fun at the restrictor-plate tracks, so we're obviously looking forward to arriving in Talladega and getting the GEICO Chevy unloaded next week," stated Mears. "GEICO is sponsoring the October race at 'Dega (GEICO 500), so I'm sure we'll have some folks on-hand next week as they begin to prepare for the Fall race. Should be fun."

The No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS driven by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner Casey Mears will again feature associate sponsor Take 5, Home of the 5-Minute Oil Change. Take 5 is celebrating “30 Years of the Fastest Oil Change on the Planet” and what better way to celebrate than by taking a trip to Talladega ?

Founded in Metairie , Louisiana , Take 5 Oil Change offers convenient drive-thru oil changes featuring liquid engineering in Castrol products. Take 5 oil changes come with a complementary beverage and the overall experience in Take 5’s "stay in your car", low pressure, high speed oil change environment. Take 5 Oil Change was established in 1984 and currently operates 34 locations and is expanding throughout the United States .

Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle arrives in Talladega believing that the future is so bright, he's gotta wear shades; window shades, that is! 3M Window Film, the official window film of NASCAR since August 2013, is Greg’s spotlight sponsor for the race, and will be a key element to keeping him cool and competitive on the track.

“I’m excited to show off the 3M Window Film paint scheme at Talladega this weekend," stated Biffle. "This is my third season racing with 3M Automotive Window Film – it allows me to stay cool and comfortable when I’m in the driver’s seat and helps give me an extra edge on the track each week.”

3M Automotive Window Crystalline Series Films features a proprietary, multilayer optical film technology that combines more than 200 layers in a film that is thinner than a Post-it® Note. The result is unrivaled heat rejection, significant glare reduction, in a film that contains no metal and blocks up to 99.9 percent of harmful ultraviolet (UV) light. Its application also offers Biffle, and many other drivers, protection and comfort during hundreds of laps around the track. Biffle began using 3M window film on his car at Daytona in 2012, following the film’s successful on-track testing by Penske in 2011.

While Biffle will be shaded from the sun's rays, Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan will take to the track prepared to fight snack cravings, as KFC's patented Go Cup, which fits in the cup holders of more than 80 percent of cars on the road today, will take portability to an extreme level when it goes "along for the ride" as the defending NASCAR Aaron's 499 champion takes to the track.

"It's great to have KFC backing the team for the Talladega race," Ragan said. "We're excited about again contending for a Talladega win, this time in the KFC Go Cup Ford Fusion. The Go Cup is specifically designed for on-the-go consumers, and guys who race cars for a living definitely fit into that category."

Besides leading a NASCAR team respected for its growth and accomplishments in its short history, Front Row Motorsports owner Bob Jenkins is also a KFC franchisee, operating restaurants in Kentucky, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

"We're thrilled to get behind David, Bob and the entire Front Row Motorsports team at Talladega," said Kevin Hochman, Chief Marketing Officer for KFC U.S. "As we were discussing great ways to remind America about KFC's portable Go Cup for today's fast-moving consumers, we thought, 'What better way to deliver an on-the-go message than with America's fastest sport?'"

KFC officially upgraded snacking with the Go Cup, which is a handy (and patented) container that fits in most vehicle cup holders. Perfect for consumers who want both value and portability, the Go Cup includes a choice of the brand's signature chicken along with Seasoned Potato Wedges for a value price.

Defending champion Ragan pointed out one other reason he's excited about being a part of Team KFC for the Talladega weekend. He wants to "Double Down" on his popular 2013 win at the Aaron's 499.

"I know the KFC Double Down® has been the talk of the country over the past week," Ragan said. "Our team is focused on a 'Double Down' of our own -- repeating last year's win at Talladega -- this time with KFC on board."

David Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 Love's Travel Stops Ford, pushed teammate David Ragan to Front Row Motorsports' first victory in a 1-2 Ragan-Gilliland finish one year ago.

"I have a lot of confidence going back to Talladega. Obviously, it was a big race for us last year for sure. David (Ragan) and I and our whole Front Row Motorsports team have had this one circled on our calendar for a long time. We're looking forward to going back with Love's Travel Stops again and seeing if we can't pull off another 1-2 finish but with the 38 in front this time."

Gilliland has 13 Sprint Cup career starts at Talladega Superspeedway. He has one pole, and two top-five and four top-10 finishes at the 2.66-mile oval.

"With the speed we had in Daytona, if we can duplicate that same speed in Talladega in comparison to the field, it's going to be wide open for us," Gilliland concluded. "The opportunity is definitely going to be there to be in Victory Lane."

His on again/off again teammate Eric McClure returns to action this weekend in the No. 35 Hefty Ultimate/Reynolds Wrap Ford for this third Sprint Cup start at the track, and eleventh overall. , comments on returning to Front Row Motorsports at Talladega Superspeedway:

"I am very appreciative of the opportunity Bob (Jenkins) and Front Row Motorsports have given me to drive the No. 35 car at Talladega," added McClure. "After having a fast car at Daytona (International Speedway in February), the disappointment of missing that race still lingers a bit for me. I am optimistic we can make the show at Talladega and have the chance to compete for a great finish."

After a hectic weekend for his teammate Marcos Ambrose, the No. 43 Gwaltney team of Aric Almirola is confident they can contend for a win. They showed a lot of speed at superspeedways during Speedweeks at Daytona and expect the same this weekend.

"You go into Talladega knowing you have a one in 43 chance of winning the race, but you have the same chances of leaving with a wrecked racecar," Almirola commented. "The new Chase format really fits this race, though. Points are really important but having a chance at a win is even more important. Roush Yates built a great engine package for Daytona, and we expect the same this weekend. After the wreck in Daytona, the team completely rebuilt our superspeedway chassis and spent time in the wind tunnel working on an aero package. They feel confident that we'll race well in the draft. We'll try to stay out of trouble and be at the right place at the end to contend for the win. Gwaltney will be back on the car this weekend for the first time this season. So, hopefully, we can get our Ford Fusion up front and fight for a win this weekend."

Almirola raced 14 times in a NASCAR series at the 2.66-mile track. In eight Sprint Cup Series starts, he posted his best finish of 10th in the No. 43 Ford last spring. He tallied his best finish of second twice in the Truck Series in 2009 and 2010.

Sitting 16th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver standings, Marcos Ambrose and the No. 9 DEWALT team head to the Talladega Superspeedway with an opportunity to move into the Top-10 with just a little luck. The team is only 14 markers behind 10th.

"It feels good to have a strong Speedway program," Ambrose stated. "You need to have confidence in the car because there are so many other things out of your control. We've run up front a lot at Talladega, and I think we have a good shot."

Talladega is a track where you can never predict the outcome and every driver has the opportunity to win. The race winner is usually not determined until the last lap. Ambrose has been a part of 10 of the wild races and finished fourth in his first Cup start at the track. He has started in the top-five in three of his last four starts.

"We'd love to come out of Talladega being Top-10 in the point standings, but it would be better with a win," continued Ambrose. "Our car at Daytona was awesome. It was fast for the two weeks and every race. We just need to avoid the accidents because a good day always comes down to leaving there without getting torn up. I feel confident our car and horsepower will be capable of winning."

For those of you who are lucky enough to be in the Talladega area, David Ragan will make an appearance at the KFC restaurant at 75835 Highway 77 in Lincoln on Thursday, May 1, from 7 to 8 p.m. He will sign autographs, pose for photos and buy KFC Go Cups for the first 100 fans in line.

The cars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup will hit the track at Talladega Superspeedway for the weekend's opening practice session on Friday, May 2nd, at 2:00 p.m. (EDT). Qualifying will follow on Saturday afternoon at 1:10 p.m. (EDT).

For visitors to the track, Casey Mears will be making a personal appearance at the GEICO display at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, May 4th, from 9:00 a.m. - 9:20 a.m. (CDT). He will be talking with fans and available for autographs and photos.

David Ragan will also be the focus of FOX Sports' Pre-Race Ritual segment, where he will talk about the preparations the defending race champion makes to get ready for the Aaron's 499. That segment will air on FOX prior to the green flag.

The Aaron's 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is on Sunday, May 4th, and it will be televised live on FOX beginning at 1:00 PM (EDT). The Motor Racing Network (MRN) will carry the live radio broadcast, along with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90. RacingLive! on ESPN.com is a live blog where fans can engage in debate and discussion with ESPN.com writers and editors during the NASCAR Sprint Cup races. On Sunday, May 4, RacingLive! Talladega will coincide with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. Fans can join ESPN.com’s NASCAR experts in dissecting every aspect of the race live at http://espn.go.com/racing/nascar/.

Of course, the Sprint Cup isn't the only show in town, and Sunoco Rookie Dakoda Armstrong is still finding his groove on many of the tracks on the NASCAR Nationwide Series circuit. However, it's safe to say that Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway isn't one of them. Armstrong has only four starts in other racing series at the Alabama track and has already made the trip to Victory Lane in the ARCA Racing Series in 2010. Armstrong has two starts at the 2.66-mile track in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, with one top-five and an average finish of 11th.

"Talladega is one of my favorite tracks," Armstrong stated. "It's a lot of fun. Even though you're close to other cars and in the draft, I feel like you can control your car there more than you can even at Daytona. It's wider and definitely easier to get three grooves and even a fourth groove. You can move around a little bit more. I ran well there in the trucks and have a win at Talladega in the ARCA series, so I think we'll be pretty good. It will be different to not have tandem racing this year, but we'll figure out this new style of speedway racing. A lot of it is just finishing the race, stay out of trouble and just being at the right place at the right time."

This weekend, the No. 43 WinField Ford Mustang will have the Alabama Farmers Cooperative and Agri-AFC on the quarter panels. The Alabama Farmers Cooperative is a regional federated supply and marketing agricultural cooperative, providing farmers in the state of Alabama a full range of agricultural supplies and services. Agri-AFC was formed in the fall of 2003 as a joint venture between Alabama Farmers Cooperative and WinField Solutions. The joint venture was formed to give the local cooperative members of Alabama Farmers Cooperative more competitively priced crop input products and availability of new products for their producers.

"With the new style of racing, you have to strategize a lot more and make your move a lot sooner," continued Armstrong. "You won't see anyone waiting for two laps to go anymore. You really have to make sure you're in the perfect position at the end, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out."

The NASCAR Nationwide Series makes its only appearance of the season at the 2.66-mile Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on Saturday, May 3, and ESPN will have a live telecast of the Aaron’s 312 with Lap-by-Lap announcer Allen Bestwick assisted by analysts Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree. Dave Burns, Jamie Little, and Dr. Jerry Punch will cover the action on pit road. The green flag will fly at 3:25 p.m.

The action begins with NASCAR Countdown at 2:30 p.m. ET featuring host Nicole Briscoe and race analysts Ricky Craven and Brad Daugherty. All NASCAR programming on ESPN networks is available on computers, smartphones, tablets, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV via WatchESPN, accessible to fans who receive ESPN’s linear networks as part of their video subscription from an affiliate provider. The race telecast also will air live in Canada on TSN2 and will air in Spanish on ESPN Deportes on May 4 at 4 a.m.

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