Vickers wins his first pole of season at Talladega
The new qualifying format for Sunday’s GEICIO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was unorthodox and confusing for several teams on Saturday, but Brian Vickers came out on top.
“I was a half-straightaway behind the whole field and they all checked up and gave me a chance and gave me a run,” Vickers said of his Round 3 run to his first pole of season.
“I mean, I really get no credit for it. I was just trying not to wreck. The team did a great job with the car. We had a strategy and a plan and we stuck to it, even when I thought we were crazy.”
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Vickers’ pole-winning average lap speed was 196.129 mph.
Jimmie Johnson was second, A.J. Allmendinger third, Ryan Blaney was fourth and Brad Keselowski was fifth.
“This will give us a nice pit lane pick,” Johnson said. “What a weird qualifying session, there’s no way around it. There was confusion on multiple levels.”
Several teams in Round 1 failed to get qualifying runs in because they waited too late to get on the track and start a lap before time expired.
The bad timing ended up costing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier car spots in the 43-car field. Joe Nemecheck missed the race when his No. 29 Toyota failed post-qualifying inspection. It’s the first time since 2009 a team running fulltime in the series failed to qualify for a race.
Alexander makes Cup debut: Sunday is Justin Alexander’s first Cup race as a crew chief, working with Richard Childress Racing’s No. 27 team and driver Paul Menard. Alexander most recently served as the team’s race engineer.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I’ve been in racing, to be at this level,” Alexander said. “And now that I’m here, it’s very special, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Alexander worked previously at Hendrick Motorsports, with crew chiefs Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte.
“They both have different styles in doing things. And honestly, you don’t really know until you get to this position to how you’re going to run things,” he said. “I have my own way and it’s not like anybody else’s. But I’m learning as I go a little bit.”
Gibson gets contract extension: Tony Gibson, who has served as Danica Patrick’s crew chief during her full-time stint in the Cup series the past two seasons, signed a three-year contract extension this weekend with Stewart-Haas Racing, a team spokesman confirmed.
New Busch on the way: Driver Kyle Busch and his wife, Samantha, announced on Twitter they are expecting their first child in May 2015.
Three things to watch
1 Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski all likely need a win Sunday to continue their 2014 title hopes.
2 Jamie McMurray won this race a year ago and has been among the top performers in the first five races of the Chase even though he isn’t in it.
3 Denny Hamlin won the spring race at Talladega but the last time a driver swept both races at Talladega was Jeff Gordon in 2007.
• There was a time when it was almost expected to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Victory Lane when the Cup series rolls into Talladega. A new Chase format in which Earnhardt needs a win there is built for him, right? On the surface, yes, as Earnhardt has five victories at NASCAR’s biggest superspeedway. On the downside, however, is the fact Earnhardt hasn’t won there since the 2004 season. In his 19-race drought at Talladega, Earnhardt has six top-10 finishes but did finish second twice, most recently in this race a year ago.
• Don’t believe Talladega can alter the championship picture? Jeff Gordon lost the points lead after this race with a 19th-place finish in 2004. A year later, Jimmie Johnson finished 31st and fell from first to fourth, a stumble from which he could not recover. Jeff Burton saw a 69-point advantage slip to six after finishing 27th in 2006. He also failed to win the championship that year.
• Daniel Suarez put in a solid 15th-place finish in Saturday’s Truck race and stayed out of trouble – just what he needed as he prepares to move fulltime to the Nationwide Series next season with Joe Gibbs Racing. He quickly departed for a race Sunday in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series.
Three picks for your fantasy racing team this week:
Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski