Wild Card Talladega shuffles the Chase deck in qualifying

Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images
Four will be done in 'Dega.
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.

Rank Driver Time Speed
1   Brian Vickers 48.825   196.129  
2   Jimmie Johnson 48.924   195.732  
3   A.J. Allmendinger 48.983   195.496  
4   Ryan Blaney 49.357   194.015  
5   Brad Keselowski 49.359   194.007  
6   Michael McDowell 49.439   193.693  
7   Travis Kvapil 49.462   193.603  
8   Kasey Kahne 49.489   193.498  
9   Terry Labonte 49.506   193.431  
10   Michael Annett 49.575   193.162  
11   Ryan Newman 50.057   191.302  
12   Martin Truex, Jr. 50.141   190.981  
13   Matt Kenseth 49.510   193.415  
14   Alex Bowman 49.520   193.376  
15   Carl Edwards 49.542   193.291  
16   Trevor Bayne 49.771   192.401  
17   Aric Almirola 49.803   192.278  
18   Kurt Busch 49.850   192.096  
19   Casey Mears 49.899   191.908  
20   Paul Menard 49.934   191.773  
21   David Gilliland 50.140   190.985  
22   Cole Whitt 50.144   190.970  
23   Mike Wallace 51.838   184.729  
24   Greg Biffle 49.985   191.577  
25   David Ragan 50.026   191.420  
26   Marcos Ambrose 50.080   191.214  
27   Danica Patrick 50.097   191.149  
28   Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 50.101   191.134  
29   Landon Cassill 50.102   191.130  
30   Austin Dillon 50.129   191.027  
31   Jamie McMurray 50.184   190.818  
32   J.J. Yeley 50.218   190.689  
33   Clint Bowyer 50.220   190.681  
34   Michael Waltrip 50.245   190.586  
35   Josh Wise 50.266   190.507  
36   Reed Sorenson 50.585   189.305  
37   Tony Stewart 50.590   189.286   OP
38   Denny Hamlin 50.863   188.270   OP
39   Kevin Harvick 51.110   187.361   OP
40   Joey Logano 53.980   177.399   OP
41   Kyle Busch 54.065   177.120   OP
42   Kyle Larson 54.163   176.800   OP
43   Jeff Gordon 54.245   176.532   OP
44   Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 54.118   176.947   DNQ
45   Justin Allgaier 54.166   176.790   DNQ
46   Joe Nemechek .000   DQ 

Wild Card Talladega shuffles the Chase deck in qualifying Wild Card Talladega shuffles the Chase deck in qualifying Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, October 19, 2014 Rating: 5