First things first: Happy Dale Earnhardt Day. The NASCAR legend would have turned 57 today.
The motorsports calendar was chock-full of story lines last weekend and into this one. Here's an attempt to catch up on the weekend that was and what's in store this week and next month:
Sprint Cup Aaron's 499 at Talladega
As a fan in the stands, this race was perhaps the best of the year. Now that's coming from someone who enjoys restrictor-plate racing. I guess it was no surprise how strong the Joe Gibbs Toyotas were since they were equally stout at Daytona in February -- but they didn't find Victory Lane there. The Red Bull Toyotas were also impressive, with Brian Vickers leading laps en route to a top-five finish and AJ Allmendinger earning a top-five qualifying spot for his first start of the season. I listened to runner-up finisher Juan Pablo Montoya and his team on the radio for most of the race, and believe it or not, the guy has figured out and seems to really enjoy plate racing. All he needs is a few more bump-drafting friends and he'll win one and soon. It didn't hurt that Montoya had a new crew chief in Jimmy Elledge, which helped the team's focus and boosted their enthusiasm. Montoya jumped up to 12th in the standings. If the Chase began today ...
Next up for Sprint Cup: Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway, 6 p.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4
Nationwide Series Aaron's 312 at Talladega
It's almost unfair when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart run plate races in the Nationwide Series. You always have to figure one of the two is going to win. Well, after the two alternately shoved each other around the track for most of the 117 laps on Saturday, Stewart earned his first win at Talladega in any series. Junior ended up sixth. But only after most of the good lead cars were taken out by Kevin Lepage and his brain-fade move to blend back into traffic after a trip to pit road. Carl Edwards said he was lucky to escape unhurt from the 15-car wreck with 47 laps to go. The wreck also took out two-thirds of the Wallace contingent as Steve Wallace's car was damaged beyond repair and Kenny Wallace's was wounded and retired five laps later. Mike Wallace, with GEICO spokes-kid and racer Lauren Wallace looking on from the pits, finished 10th.
Dario Franchitti was involved in an earlier wreck and ended up with a broken left ankle after Larry Gunselman hit Fanchitti's No. 40 Dodge on the driver's side way after the actual accident was over. Franchitti missed Sunday's Cup race (David Stremme filled in for him) and will miss at least one more Cup race. Ken Schrader is scheduled to drive his No. 40 Cup car this week at Richmond. Most of the drivers were thrilled that veteran Morgan Shepard escaped all the carnage and finished a very respectable 13th. At one point, Dale Jr. came over the radio and asked if "that green car back there was the Racing for Jesus car?" When told yes, he said Shepard's car "must have it's tongue hanging out." Stewart even mentioned Shepard in his Victory Lane interview.
Read more about the Aaron's 312 here. Next up for the Nationwide Series: Lipton Tea 250 at Richmond International Raceway, 6 p.m. Friday, ESPN Classic
NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals in Atlanta
It's no secret Ashley Force is a fantastic young talent in the NHRA. She proved it yet again and in historic fashion Sunday when she defeated her father, John Force, to become the first woman to win a Funny Car title. Ashley Force defeated Del Worsham, Jim Head, and Ron Capps en route to the final, which was her third straight and fourth overall money-round showing. She now leads Tim Wilkerson by 59 points in the Funny Car points standings. Read more about Ashley's win here. Next up for the NHRA: O'Reilly Midwest Nationals in Madison, Ill., on Friday-Sunday.
Texas teenager shines in O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas
Colin Braun, 19, earned his best result of his NASCAR career with a third-place finish at Kansas Speedway on Saturday. The result vaulted Braun into first place in the Craftsman Truck Series rookie standings and was his first top-five finish of the season. The Trucks race next at Lowe's Motor Speedway on May 16.
IndyCars start preparations for Indy 500
Dan Wheldon will have a whole month to savor Sunday's win at Kansas Speedway as the IndyCar teams now begin their preparations for the Indy 500 on May 25. Practice for the 92nd running of the Indy 500 begins next week and qualifying is May 10-11 and May 17-18. Points leader and two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves figures to be a favorite this year. Go here for more drivers to watch for on Memorial Day weekend.
Robby Gordon excels on two continents
Even the staunchest Robby Gordon hater has to admit the guy can drive a race car/truck. Gordon proved he can do a multi-continent "double" last week when he drove his Hummer H2 to a 10th-place overall finish in the Central European Rally, which spanned seven days and 1,670 miles through Hungary and Romania. Gordon flew back from Europe in time to start the Aaron's 499 Sprint Cup race at Talladega and finished a respectable 11th in that race.
Young Finn okay after hard crash
Heikki Kovalainen was released from a Barcelona hospital on Monday after a scary crash during the Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday. The 20-year-old said he doesn't remember the accident that left him stiff and sore, but with no major injuries. He hopes to pass an F1-mandated medical exam in time to race in the next race, the Turkish Grand Prix on May 11.
-- Michele Vincze