TALLADEGA, Ala. Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. walk with a little swagger and a knowing smile when they are at Talladega Superspeedway.
It's as if the DEI teammates know something that no one else knows.
Maybe they do. Going into Sunday's Aaron's 499, Waltrip and Earnhardt have accounted for five consecutive NASCAR Nextel Cup victories on Talladega's steeply banked, 2.66-mile oval.
''I come here expecting to win,'' said Waltrip, who ended Junior's string of four in a row here last year.
''Yeah, we come here with great race cars and one of us should win the race,'' Earnhardt added. ''With as competitive as our cars are, one of us should go out there and win.''
The tandem's success at Talladega is only half the story. Add in Daytona, the other big track where NASCAR requires horsepower-sapping carburetor restrictor plates to slow the Cup cars down, and Waltrip and Earnhardt have won 10 of the last 13 races.
Dale Earnhardt, the founder of DEI and a master of plate racing, put added emphasis on winning at Daytona and Talladega.
That hasn't changed since his death in a crash during the 2001 Daytona 500. If anything, the effort by DEI on its plate program has intensified.
''We prepare for these races knowing what is expected of us and knowing what is expected of the team in order to be successful,'' Waltrip said. ''It's an intangible that other people don't have.
''In sports, there are intangibles that line up on your side, that generally makes you a more successful organization and, in this case, we benefit from that.''
Waltrip added that winning at Talladega really comes down to a simple thing that the elder Earnhardt understood: ''In order to be successful you have to have a fast car. That's what he left us with at DEI.
''Everyone has worked so hard at DEI to make sure that they provide Junior and me with the fastest cars. I think you can see ... that we're on top of it.''
Ricky Rudd slowed down the Waltrip-Earnhardt juggernaut just a bit on Friday, beating them out for the pole. But that didn't change the fact that the DEI drivers, who will start second and third, go into Sunday's race as prohibitive favorites.
Rudd and everyone else in the 43-car lineup go into the race hopeful that the breaks will go their way and the DEI cars will come back to the pack.
But nobody sounds very confident of that happening.
''Somewhere along the line, whether it's this weekend or three years from now, or five years from now, that dominance will stop and somebody else is going to win the race that day,'' Rudd said. ''Are we the guys to do that? I can't answer that. But, somewhere along the line it will change and, hopefully, it's this weekend.''
Jeff Gordon, who is tied with Earnhardt as the leading active drivers in plate wins with six, said part of DEI's success is confidence.
''Those guys come to Daytona and Talladega thinking they are going to win,'' Gordon said. ''They know they have the cars to win and they know that, whatever happens during the race, they can get back to the front. That's an edge that can make all the difference at a place like this.''
Talladega is a track that takes very little strategy or handling. It's fast and wide and horsepower rules.
But it can be a difficult mental exercise, with constant three- and four-wide racing in huge packs at speeds above 190 mph, knowing that ''the big one'' the almost inevitable multicar wreck could be coming on the next turn.
''I think any time you race three-wide or four-wide all day long, it is more mentally demanding,'' Rudd said. ''You have to pay attention and you're really on top of the steering wheel all day long.
''This racetrack, they sort of play with the rules quite a bit roof spoilers and such and I can't think of how many things they've tried to maybe break the packs up a little bit. But they haven't ever seemed to find a combination at Talladega to do that. This race is not going to be any different.''
This kind of racing makes many of the drivers nervous, but the 175,000 fans who will be here Sunday and the millions more who will be watching on TV generally love the show.
''It's entertainment over the top,'' Waltrip said. ''It's everything the fans want to see. All NASCAR can do is make the cars and facility as safe as they can be and let us go out and race.''
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