Brian Scott ices Coors Light Pole at Talladega
May 03, 2014, Staff report, NASCAR.com
RCR and Childress-allied teams lead charge in hectic multicar session
Scott, driving the No. 33 Chevrolet on a part-time basis for Circle Sport Racing, turned a fast lap of 198.290 mph to score the first pole position of his Sprint Cup career in his fifth start. He'll start first in Sunday's Aaron's 499 (1 p.m. ET, FOX), the second race of the season where cars use restrictor plates to limit horsepower.
"Who would've thought that, huh?" Scott said. "Wow."
Scott used a strong aerodynamic pull from Paul Menard at the tail of a long, six-car pack of Richard Childress Racing-affiliated cars as the final five-minute qualifying session came to a close to post a session-best lap of 198.290 mph.
Accordingly, drivers for RCR or Childress-allied teams rounded out the top six spots. Menard, in the No. 27 Childress Chevrolet, claimed the second spot at 197.888 mph. AJ Allmendinger of the RCR-affiliated JTG Daugherty Racing team, Casey Mears from Germain Racing, Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon and RCR teammate Ryan Newman completed the top six, meaning they will occupy the first three rows in Sunday's 499-miler.
Menard and Allmendinger, near the tail of the line, said that the more difficult task was Newman's in deciding when to roll off pit road and make their team-effort qualifying attempt.
"They told me I was going to run with all the RCR cars, and I said 'perfect, it just makes sense,' " Allmendinger said. "I think it just shows the more cars around here, you get more cars in a line is going to be faster. The great thing about RCR and the ECR package is we are all even. So it's not like we think their cars are faster. It just made sense to get us all lined up and get us all in a pack."
One RCR-allied team was not as fortunate -- the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet for Martin Truex Jr. failed a post-qualifying tech inspection for failing to meet height requirements. Truex, fastest in opening Sprint Cup practice Friday, will start from the rear of the 43-car field with Kasey Kahne, whose qualifying time was also disallowed when his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy was found underweight in post-qualifying inspection.
The multiple-round, knockout-style group qualifying format -- introduced before the 2014 season -- did not debut at Daytona International Speedway in February, where series officials opted to stick with its traditional system of using time trials and midweek qualifying races to determine the Daytona 500 starting order. That meant Saturday's three-session qualifying was the series' first go-round in the tightly wound aerodynamic packs that prevail at restrictor-plate tracks.
The threat of peril in the new format led some drivers to consider playing it safe and avoiding damage at a track where drivers can storm to the front from the back of the pack with relative ease. But once the track was open for qualifying, most went for a fast lap in hopes of clinching a solid starting spot and an advantageous pit-stall position.
"Ego and pride," said Brad Keselowski, in explaining the motivation. Keselowski qualified 13th, the fastest driver to miss the final, 12-driver cut. "Yeah, it can (be expensive), but that's what we're here to do. Racing is expensive, so wrecking goes with it. That's part of the risk versus reward proposition."
The format led to an intriguing cat-and-mouse game, where teammates locked together in attempts to gain an aero advantage or soft-pedaled on the 2.66-mile track to wait for the right opportunity to pounce and post a fast lap.
The top spot on the leaderboard changed hands three times in the first, 25-minute session. Marcos Ambrose was the first driver to clock a chart-topping lap at speed, but he yielded briefly to journeyman Reed Sorenson. Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson took a turn atop the leaderboard, but Kyle Busch took the top spot to stay with a 200.574 mph lap. Joey Logano, last weekend's winner at Richmond, was second-fastest in the first session as the only other driver to top the 200-mph mark.
Busch's fast early lap was tempered by right-side damage to his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He was allowed to change his right-front tire before the following rounds of qualifying. Former Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, now a part-time competitor, also took damage to his No. 66 Toyota's right-front fender; he failed to make the top-24 cut for the second round of qualifying.
The top spot changed hands three more times in the second, 10-minute round of qualifying, with Kasey Kahne, Newman, Keselowski and ultimately Scott leading the way. The session was essentially halted by a caution period for debris at the seven-minute mark. Danica Patrick was the final driver to make the 12-driver cut for the final, five-minute qualifying session to determine the pole winner.
In the final session, each of the 12 drivers backed out of their pit stalls and sat idling for the first two minutes, 40 seconds, allowing the field to make just two competitive laps in a bid for the pole. It was just enough time for the Childress-related cars to get aligned.
Eric McClure, J.J. Yeley, Dave Blaney and Joe Nemechek failed to qualify for the 43-car field.