Hornish Takes Talladega Pole

Sam Hornish Jr.

Sam Hornish Jr. earned his sixth career Nationwide pole Friday at Talladega Superspeedway after a lap of 186.783 mph. (Photo: Getty Images)

Starting Lineup

TALLADEGA, Ala. - NASCAR Nationwide qualifying at Talladega Superspeedway was chaotic, ever-changing and a test of patience.

When the third and final round ended, Sam Hornish Jr. - making his first start of the season - won the pole with a lap of 186.783 mph. He led a 1-2-3 Joe Gibbs Racing sweep, the reward for Elliott Sadler’s dutiful job of leading his teammates through a maze of cars and strategy.

Sadler starts second with Darrell Wallace Jr., making his season debut in the series, third. Rookie Ryan Reed starts fourth with rookie Dakoda Armstrong fifth.

Nationwide cars only got to do one of three sessions at Daytona in February before rain ended qualifying, so Friday marked the first time teams got all the way through format at a restrictor-plate track. For as much weaving took place on the track, there was only one incident.

“When I watched it at Daytona, it didn’t look as hectic as it felt today,’’ Hornish said.

Sadler played the role of guide, determining with his spotter and crew chief when to go on the track. Sadler then determined when to try to catch a pack in front to get the draft for the fastest lap. He also decided where to go with so many cars on the track at times.

“I wanted the responsibility because I had the most experience,’’ Sadler said. “It would not be fair at all to Darrell or Sam to make them have all the responsibility in trying to find the right gaps and get a tow off this person or that person.’’

This was the first time Wallace had experienced this format. Qualifying for the first two Camping World Truck races this season were canceled because of rain.

“That was crazy,’’ Wallace said. “First round was all over the place, people pulling in front of us, chopping guys off, I’m like we’re wrecked. Plenty of times I thought that.’’

Sadler admits after going through this, he “can’t wait to watch (Sprint Cup) qualifying.’’

Saturday will be the first time Cup teams qualify with the new format at a restrictor-plate track.

“It’s going to be wild because you’ve got so many more guys with experience, guys are going to be patient, going to probably try to sit on pit road but maybe longer. You’re going to see a lot of cat-and-mouse.’’

He noted it could be like the second Cup practice session when the Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing cars tried to go out together without any cars from other teams in their pack.

In Friday’s Nationwide qualifying, the biggest race often was to the end of pit road where drivers than waited for others to go out. Nobody wants to lead a pack since it’s the back of the pack where the fastest speeds often come from.

Fans also could see surprises just as happened Friday.

All three JR Motorsports cars failed to advance in the second round and will start deep in the pack.

Regan Smith, who has won two of the last three Nationwide restrictor-plate races, also wasn’t helped after he was hit by Kyle Larson’s car.

Larson was leading a group on a run and tried to squeeze between Smith and Tanner Berryhill. The contact caused Berryhill to spin and hit the wall. Berryhill starts last in the 40-car field.

“There’s really not a whole lot I could have done there,’’ said Larson, who starts 20th. “I could have slowed down but chances are there may have been a bigger wreck just with the line of guys behind us. I feel really bad. I hate for that to happen.’’

Smith starts 32nd with teammate Kasey Kahne 31st and teammate Chase Elliott 37th.

“It’s more of a chess game,’’ Smith said. “We’ll just have to re-evaluate how we do it. We had a plan and our plan just didn’t work.’’

Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – will have live coverage of Saturday's Aaron's 312 from Talladega Superspeedway at 2:30 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.

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