Careful approach mitigates ‘knockout’ format fears
There was frequent speculation Friday morning among Sprint Cup drivers that this “knockout” qualifying format in a superspeedway setting could lead to a bunch of wrecks.
That didn’t prove to be the case, perhaps in part because teams were so wary of that happening. It seemed teams were quick to get cars off the track – and out of the draft that makes restrictor-plate races unique – as soon as they had a fast enough lap to advance to the next of three rounds.
Starting position isn’t a particularly big deal at Talladega, where so much of racing is about attrition rather than track position. Drivers said the only real advantage in starting up front is a more preferable pit stall.
Luck changing? Joey Logano is having a fantastic Sprint Cup season with two victories already. Next on the agenda: Correct whatever has gone wrong at Talladega. Logano has finished outside the top 20 in four of his past five starts here.
Logano failed to reach the final round of qualifying Saturday, the first time that has happened since NASCAR adopted this system at the start of this season.
Inspection woes: Chevrolets driven by Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. failed post-qualifying inspection, so those two cars will move to the back of the starting grid for Sunday’s race.
Kahne’s car was found to fall under the weight minimum. The issue for Truex was height of the front of his car.
A way with words: This was the first Sprint Cup qualifying at a restrictor-plate track under the new “knockout” rules that has numerous cars on the track at once. Shortly before it started, Dale Earnhardt Jr. went on Twitter to predict this would be like “drunk karaoke” in the sense it could go “terribly wrong” but be pretty entertaining.
Three things to watch
1. Earnhardt is in a new car this weekend, and it was so fast in practice Friday he didn’t take many laps. But then Earnhardt had a bad qualifying run that eliminated him in the first round.
2. Superspeedways and road courses are the outliers in Sprint Cup competition, with most resources devoted to preparing for the intermediate layouts. That makes these races opportunities for the smaller teams to get a win. David Ragan did just that a year ago at Talladega.
3. Hopefully no fisticuffs this weekend after the altercation in Richmond between Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears.
Observations• The forecast for Sunday is zero chance of rain. Assuming that’s accurate, it would be a welcome change from the spring race here a year ago, when the entire weekend was backed up.
• Interesting decision by Sam Hornish Jr. to run a seven-race Nationwide stint with Joe Gibbs Racing, filling in when Kyle Busch has a scheduling conflict. He apparently chose quality equipment over a more regular gig.
• Jimmie Johnson has begun getting questions about how such a winner has yet to win this season with the points system now emphasizing wins over consistency. Doesn’t worry Johnson, who made it clear Friday he’s confident he’ll be in the Chase.
Three picks for your fantasy team:
Kyle Busch: His team changed out an engine, so he’ll start from the back, but he’ll do so with a clearly fast car.
David Ragan: He won here last spring and was one of five drivers to top 200 mph. in the first of two practice sessions Friday.
Brad Keselowski: His first Sprint Cup victory was at Talladega. He understands the nuances of this layout.