News & Media


New procedure sets Cup starting lineup for first time

May 14, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

DOVER, Del. -- Five-time defending Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has 54 career victories, including six at Dover International Speedway while A.J. Allmendinger has none in 126 career starts.

The pair -- with Johnson starting on the pole thanks to setting the fastest time in two Friday practice sessions -- will lead the field to green Sunday after qualifying was rained out Saturday. NASCAR set the starting lineup using practice speeds for the first time since the procedure was put in place this season.

"For me, I used to be down in the 20's in points so this actually worked out well. It was good. I feel like we came here and did the Goodyear tire test and this is my favorite track and the one I am best at."

--A.J. ALLMENDINGER

Defending race winner Kyle Busch, who won Friday's Camping World Truck Series race, will line up seventh.

In the past, the 43-car starting lineup would be set per a complicated formula based on the top 35 in owners' points and a lengthy set of additional criteria. Getting into the lineup is still based on that process, but the actual starting positions are based on overall practice speeds, fastest to slowest and with the cars in the top 35 in owners' points lining up ahead of those outside the top 35.

Allmendinger, who has top-10 finishes in two of his past three races here and led 143 of 400 laps last fall before Johnson won the race, didn't miss an opportunity to joke with the popular champion, who sat next to him on a dais.

"I don't understand how it matters to Jimmie -- the system is the same for [Johnson]," Allmendinger said, turning to face Johnson. "You are either fastest, or they used to do it on points so you would always start on pole. Not really sure how that is any different for you.

"For me, I used to be down in the 20's in points so this actually worked out well. It was good. I feel like we came here and did the Goodyear tire test and this is my favorite track and the one I am best at."

Johnson agreed with Allmendinger when he said the new procedure involved more planning by the race teams

"This new system definitely requires some thinking beforehand, coming into the race weekend and paying close attention to the weather," Johnson said. "We elected to start in race trim [Friday] and the first run on track was really strong. So when we saw that speed and the threat of weather, we at that point switched into qualifying trim and worked really hard to outrun [Allmendinger], who put up a huge lap time.

"It ended up paying off [but] it's just a challenging program now, or a routine, because when the track is cool and green you're probably going to run your fastest lap. And with two practice sessions and the time that they start, you really have to play your strategy coming into race weekend for how to post a lap and then to maximize your tire allotment that we have. It's not an easy job and it changes every week."

Joey Logano was one guy who was pleased at the process that puts his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota fifth in the lineup. Logano, who was involved in a horrific, rolling wreck here three races ago but has top-15 finishes in his three other Dover starts, was pleased, having never started better than 11th previously.

"We're starting pretty good because we didn't qualify," Logano said. "That's exciting -- you have to like that [and] I'm happy with it."

Scott Riggs, attempting to make his second start this season in a second Chevrolet fielded by Whitney Motorsports, was disappointed after turning a speed in practice that should have earned him the 39th position. Since the team has only one 2011 race attempt, Riggs' was the only car sent home.

Dover Speeds

Practice 1
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. Allmendinger 158.562 22.704
3. Dale Jr. 158.493 22.714
4. K. Kahne 158.186 22.758
5. J. Logano 158.033 22.780
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. Keselowski 157.591 22.844
3. G. Biffle 157.522 22.854
4. C. Edwards 157.370 22.876
5. D. Ragan 157.000 22.930

Allmendinger continued to express some confusion over just how good his car needs to be, but said he was looking forward to finding out.

"We unloaded good [Friday] and worked on it a little bit," Allmendinger said. "You really have to figure out when the right time to do a [qualifying] run is [in practice]. We went out there and felt like we put up a really good lap. We were right there with Jimmie and unfortunately he had to cheat and do one extra run to beat my lap.

"I would like to have gotten qualifying in, but I think with the new system all we want is to control our own destiny instead of having something determined by stuff that was, in the past, like points. As long as you can control your own destiny you can't complain. Starting second I'm happy, I feel like the Best Buy Ford is really good in race trim [and] hopefully Jimmie and I will duel it out again.

"My theory is that Jimmie leads more laps than I do, in life, so I don't start up front a lot and if I can lead a lap or one or two or three it looks good on my stats."

Logano is one of nine drivers doing double duty at Dover in the Nationwide Series, whose race was postponed by rain. Fellow Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards, who starts only 13th in the Cup race, will be on the pole for the Nationwide race.

"I really wanted to get qualifying in on the Nationwide side more, because I think we're starting 11th -- but I think we could have started better than that since I've gotten the pole the last two times I've been here," Logano said. "It would have been cool to get three. I feel like my car is good enough."

What exactly will happen Sunday might not come into sharp focus for a while, with the status of the Nationwide race uncertain early Saturday afternoon.

"Oh yeah, [the track] will be green but this tire they brought rubbers up really quick," Logano said. "It won't take long for it to rubber back up. It'd be interesting to see what happens in the first few laps. My thought is we're going to be spinning-out sideways, but we'll see."

"Obviously with all the rain and how it will wash rubber off the track it will be a little different," Allmendinger said. "I feel like at the end of the second practice was the best the car had been in race runs. I guess that is what you want, to end at your best."

"It looked like a lot of guys were loose in the Truck race [Friday],' Logano said. "So it was entertaining to watch -- probably not that fun to be involved in."