Qualifying Questions Abound for Talladega
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on April 30, 2014 | 9:59 A.M. EST
There is a variety of opinions and predictions about how NASCAR's new group qualifying format will play out this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo: Getty Images)
There is a variety of opinions and predictions about how NASCAR’s new group qualifying format will play out this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
Both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series will set their lineups for the weekend’s races at the 2.66-mile oval with the new qualifying system the sanctioning body introduced this year. While Nationwide teams got a taste of the format in a shortened session at Daytona in February, this marks the first time Sprint Cup drivers execute it on a restrictor-plate track.
There are several different views on how to approach qualifying and the verdict is still definitely out throughout the garage area.
"I have no idea what to expect," said Brian Vickers. "It’s going to be a lot of fun and it’s going to be way more entertaining. Nothing was more painful than the old way of qualifying at a superspeedway. I’m looking forward to Saturday and who knows how it's going to come out."
Vickers believes that like restrictor-plate racing itself at times, there will be an element of luck in turning the fastest time during the qualifying sessions because of the importance of drafting.
"The speed of the car and engine will matter less and chance will matter more," he said. "That's fine. Restrictor-plate racing, to a certain extent, is that way. I’m good with it because where you start isn’t critical to success in the race. Getting that timing, being in the right place at the right time and having the right car in front of you on the right lap is going to mean more than anything else. It's going to be a nail-bitter on who is going to win the pole until the very end."
Kevin Harvick agrees with Vickers on the excitement factor that will exist with the format at Talladega. But the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is not exactly sure how his team will work together trying to find an advantage in the draft.
"The new qualifying format has been good every week," Harvick said. "As you take it to the superspeedways, it could be very unique for the fact that everyone’s going to try to get those huge runs from the back of the pack. So you’re going to have a lot of different agendas.
"The timing of when you make your runs is going to be a little bit different. There are going to be some interesting moments, I would say, as we go through qualifying. But I think it’s going to be exciting compared to what we’re used to."
NASCAR will implement three segments for Saturday’s Sprint Cup Series session, as is the rule for track’s as large as Talladega. The process of whittling down to a final dozen in the last session that will compete for the pole is something Jamie McMurray questions.
"The first segment is gonna be awesome," McMurray said this week on MRN.com’s "Motorsports Monday." "I don’t know that we need three segments when we go to plate races – getting down to twelve cars, I don’t know if it’s going to be that exciting and it’s gonna be hard to time out that pass. We’ll just have to wait and see because qualifying in the past at plate tracks is just painfully boring."
Drivers will have their hands full adapting to the new format for the first time at the mammoth Alabama track, and it won’t be a walk in the park for their crew chiefs. Setting up cars and plotting strategy for the session has been on the minds of several prominent crew chiefs since NASCAR officially announced the new qualifying system.
"We knew we would qualify for the Daytona 500 the traditional way, but Talladega and the Fourth-of-July return to Daytona immediately came to mind," said Todd Gordon, who has helped guide Joey Logano to two wins already this season. "It’s going to be interesting, for sure, and there'll be a lot of risk-versus-reward discussion. But the fans will see a great show and hopefully, we’ll be able to continue our early-season qualifying success."
Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will have live coverage of Sunday's Aaron's 499 from Talladega Superspeedway starting at 12 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.