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It's time to prepare for glory, or defeat. ~ NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup commercial
Brian Vickers grabbed the pole for the GEICO 500 at Talladaga Superspeedway Saturday, perhaps as much because of what other drivers didn't do as because of what he did.
"I don't deserve any credit." said Vickers after the final segment. "I just tried not to wreck."
Jimmie Johnson starts second for much the same reason. "I'm not sure what happened there, but it worked out." said Johnson, who's in danger of being eliminated from Chase contention if he doesn't win today's race.
In September, NASCAR announced changes to the qualifying format for Talladega that included a first round divided into two groups by a random draw, with each group getting five minutes on track to make their runs. After a 10-minute break, the 24 drivers with the fastest laps in either round advanced to an intermediate round also five minutes long. From that round 12 advanced to determine their starting positions based on their fastest lap in that five-minute segment.
At the time the changes were announced, Robin Pemberton, NASCAR senior vice president of competition and racing development, said the changes, "Should be more exciting for our fans. It will feature a more accelerated pace, provide greater opportunity for team strategy to come into play and it should more closely resemble actual racing conditions.”
"Strategy" resulted in five Chase contenders relying on owner's points to make the show. For the first time in his Cup career, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. failed to qualify. Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Justin Allgaier also didn't make the race. Joe Nemechek's car failed post-qualifying inspection, so Reed Sorenson got a reprieve and starts in 36th position.
Jeff Gordon qualified 43rd. Only four times has Gordon earned starting spots of 40th or worse, but for the first time in his career, his lap time put him dead last in the field. The four-time champion made the race by only .127 seconds.
"I just mistimed getting to the line." said Gordon. "The whole group was going so slow I knew I had to have a gap and when I came across the line I thought I had enough (time) to be able to complete that lap and get one more, which was the only way we were going to make it. But we came up short."
Gordon leads active drivers in wins at the 2.66 mile superspeedway with six to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s five victories.
Tony Stewart had to use a past-champion's provisional to make the field.
On the other side of the equation, the beneficiaries of "strategy" were names not usually seen in at the top of the field in qualifying. AJ Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney, who's running the No. 12 Penske entry, line up on the second row. Michael McDowell qualified sixth, Travis Kvapil seventh, and Michael Annett tenth, while Terry Labonte earned a ninth-place start in his final Cup race.
The Dogecoin-funded entry of Josh Wise also made the field, qualifying 36th.
Matt Kenseth starts in the back because of a precautionary engine change. Also dropping to the back: Brad Keselowski, who may discover just how many enemies he made with his actions last week at Charlotte.
Here are the full qualifying results. Tune in at 2:00 pm ET on ESPN to see whose nation falls the hardest.
|12||Martin Truex, Jr.||50.141||190.981|
|28||Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||50.101||191.134|
|44||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||54.118||176.947||DNQ|