NASCAR Talladega Notebook: Sprint Cup Drivers Feeling Positive About Qualifying Format At Talladega

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Mark McCarter~ NASCAR Wire Service

Boris Said (54) leads a pack of cars during practice for the XFinity Series Winn Dixie 300 at Talladega Superspeedway Friday (Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Boris Said (54) leads a pack of cars during practice for the XFinity Series Winn Dixie 300 at Talladega Superspeedway Friday (Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images for NASCAR)

TALLADEGA, Ala.—Saturday’s Coors Light Pole qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 is the unveiling of still another new format for Talladega Superspeedway, and it meets with wide approval among drivers.

“I feel really good about what it’s evolved into,” said Sprint Cup points leader Kevin Harvick, the 2010 winner of this race. “I think all the competitors feel that way, the guys in the garage feel that way.”

Talladega’s 2.66-mile distance and the necessity for two laps to get up to speed in the long-standing, one-attempt qualifying was not fan-friendly, yet the “knockout” qualifying established in 2014 led to some problems.

Saturday’s qualifying, set for 1 p.m. Eastern, will have two rounds, with the order of the first round determined by a random draw. It will determine the starting spots from 13th through 43rd. The 12 fastest will have their speeds re-set and, after a 10-minute break, move on to the second round.

The new wrinkle is that each driver will receive one timed lap per round and there will be more than one car on the track at the same time, though a second car would be released by NASCAR in a predetermined interval.

“Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) and I looked at each other this morning and we go, ‘I’m so glad the qualifying has changed,’” Danica Patrick said. “It just was, I feel, like a very unnecessary stress for everybody. The amount of conversations and meeting with drivers and I felt like I was on ‘Survivor’ and trying to make alliances and finding out the best thing to do was to not have any.”

The GEICO 500 is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern on FOX.


Brad Keselowski was the winner in Talladega’s most recent race, with a victory in a “two-overtime” green-white-checkered finish that propelled him into the Eliminator Round of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

“Coming back here this weekend after we won last October when we were here, that was such a key win for us,” Keselowski said. “It’s always a lot of fun entering a race track you won at the last time you were there, so we’re carrying a lot of momentum in that sense and look forward to hopefully getting another win at Talladega.”

He called it “probably the most emotional (victory) I ever got besides my first win in NASCAR.”

Keselowski will become a father for the first time this spring, but making any contingency plans for a backup driver for the No. 2 Team Penske Ford has not been considered.

“We haven’t really made any because we’re very, very fortunate that everything at this time looks to fall directly in line with the race weeks of Charlotte, which is where we live, and hopefully we can accommodate in that sense,” Keselowski said. “Fingers crossed. We’ll see how it all plays out, but I’m looking forward to it very much.”


Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s second practice session was cut short Friday afternoon when the No. 88 Chevrolet had vibration problems. Or, as he noted on his radio, “There was a little bloop or something.”

His shifter broke during last month’s race at Martinsville because of vibration and a promising run at Charlotte last fall spoiled by the same malady.

Earnhardt owned the fastest time in the practice session (192.204 mph) up until his problems.

Greg Biffle hit 197.929 mph to top all drivers in the final session, followed by Tony Stewart (197.859), Aric Almirola (197.686), Jimmie Johnson (197.175) and Austin Dillon (197.122).

Biffle’s fellow Roush Fenway Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was one of three drivers to eclipse the 200-mph mark in the day’s initial practice session. Stenhouse (200.780), Michael Waltrip (200.742) and Chris Buescher (200.268) all topped 200 mph while David Ragan had the best 10-consecutive lap average, at 196.969.

The afternoon speeds tended to be slower as fewer drivers risked close-quarter drafting. Because cars were impounded immediately after practice, teams couldn’t afford situations where significant repair work might be necessitated. Only 38 of the 45 entered drivers ventured out for the final practice.

Any drafting was, as Johnson put it, was “being smart, calculating risk to the best of our ability.”


Danica Patrick was brimming with optimism about both her chances at Talladega Superspeedway and her future with Stewart-Haas Racing under new sponsorship.

Patrick’s long-time sponsor,, announced earlier in the week it would not sponsor her No. 10 Chevrolet next season. She was thankful the decision was made early enough to begin pursuit of sponsorship for 2016.

“It’s a little bit bittersweet,” Patrick said. “I look at pictures of me in the suit and the pictures of the car and I think about I can’t believe it won’t be the green GoDaddy car anymore.”

This is the final year of Patrick’s contract with SHR, but despite speculation where she might end up next season, she said she has no plans to be elsewhere.

“I really am happy at Stewart-Haas and they’re working hard already to find someone for the new primary (sponsorship) position,” she said. “I think at this point in time, we’re moving forward with all those intentions. But I guess it is on some level open season in a lot of areas. So, I don’t think you can ever say never, of course. But I am happy where I’m at right now.”

Patrick has finished 19th and 22nd in her past two Talladega starts and there is a perception that her best tracks are here and Daytona.

“They were in the beginning, especially my opportunities to have really good finishes,” she said. “But I don’t think that’s the case anymore. So now they feel very similar (to other tracks). I’m thinking more about the luck side of it than probably the potential to have my really good races because I feel like we’re able to do that here and there on lots of other tracks now.”

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