And a rookie shall lead them.
You’d have to be very into motorsports to know Brian Scott’s resume. He’s 26 and from Boise, Idaho. He’s driven in the Truck series and in Nationwide. He’s about to make his fifth-ever start in a Sprint Cup car.
He’ll do so from the pole at Talladega Superspeedway in the Aaron’s 499.
Scott, who now lives in Mooresville, was quick to acknowledge an element of luck to his big day qualifying. But it was also an element of experience where, in this one instance, he trumped most everyone else in the Sprint Cup field.
That’s because Nationwide drivers have twice done this new “knockout” qualifying format at superspeedways – at Daytona at the start of the season and at Talladega Friday. There was no knockout format for the Daytona 500, and it was clear Saturday that drivers and teams were still feeling their way through this in a restrictor-plate setting.
Daytona and Talladega are all about drafting, which means forming alliances. You simply can’t go fast enough all by yourself.
Richard Childress rounded up his drivers and some others who buy technical support from RCR and formed the winning alliance in the three-round qualifying. This entailed veteran Ryan Newman leading the way – and thus reducing his chance of running the fastest lap.
Scott wound up the beneficiary of a group of six drivers working in such unison. It also boosted Paul Menard to second, AJ Almendinger to third and rookie Austin Dillon to fifth for Sunday’s 1 p.m. start on Fox.
“It speaks volumes on the effort in that shop,” Scott said of RCR.
“Sure (winning the pole) was a lot of luck, but also a little bit of planning. Normally as a rookie you don’t expect (to know more) but this was situational. As far as group qualifying (at a superspeedway) we do have more experience than the Cup guys right now.”
Nationwide drivers described Friday’s qualifying as “cat and mouse” in that some drivers would simply refuse to go out on the track at the outset of a session. Being at the start of a pack minimizes the benefit of drafting. The further back in a line a car sits, the more it’s pulled along at top speed.
So no one pulled onto the track the first two minutes of the five-minute final session. Finally Newman pulled out to start the action.
“We all know it’s a waiting game – who panics first?” Scott said. “They get impatient and pass us. That just makes us faster.”
The question becomes how much Saturday’s success carries over to Sunday’s race. Starting from the pole doesn’t traditionally count for much at Talladega because there are so many crashes and the field tends to churn.
However, what got Scott to the pole and Menard, Almendinger and Dillon high in the starting grid could translate to the race. You’re nothing at Talladega if you’re all by yourself.
“It made great sense to get all these cars in a pack,” said Almendinger.
To which Menard added, “It’s always about teammates. You don’t want to intentionally screw each other up.
“You try to stay together as much as you can. But you are going to separate (as other drivers make their moves), and then you do your own thing.”
Rookie Dillon picked Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s brain about alliances at superspeedways.
“Junior is one of the best here, and he told me you have no friends here,” Dillon said. “But it’s been working so far.”
Speaking of Earnhardt, he tweeted after qualifying that Scott winning this pole just makes him a bigger target next time they gather for a paintball excursion. Scott laughed when told that and had a comeback.
“Last time I shot him three times after he was out.”