Drivers say plenty about 'Dega qualifying
May 03, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
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TALLADEGA, Ala. – There seemed to be almost no disagreement among drivers when describing the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series knockout qualifying experience at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday.
How the individual drivers actually felt about the first use of the format at the 2.66-mile track was another matter.
It was the first time NASCAR’s new qualifying format had been used on a restrictor-plate track for its Cup series. The format, which consists of three rounds with only the fastest advancing, was not used at Daytona International Speedway earlier this year.
"It’s wild, it’s crazy, it’s intense, it’s entertaining," Jeff Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup champ and six-time Talladega winner said. "It's what it needs to be.
"You’re going off of speed, which is what I think qualifying should be."
Gordon, who advanced into the final round, wound up 11th overall.
Qualifying races are "fine for the (Daytona) 500," he said, "But there's more risk involved to me in that than this."
Not that Saturday's three-round effort wasn't without its catch-your-breath moments. The differences in speed as packs of cars came up to speed only to run up on a slower pack, or a group already slowing down to head to pit road, made it difficult at times to get a clean run in on the 2.66-mile track. And it resulted in several close calls.
By the end of the session, one thing seemed clear -- the bigger the pack, the higher the speed.
"It was way more fun than our normal qualifying session for sure," Kevin Harvick, who will start eighth on Sunday, said. "For us, it just didn’t time out exactly right there at the end. I thought we were in the right spot, (there was) just a little bigger group ahead of us."
Brad Keselowski, the series' 2012 champ, said the experience was "about what we expected.
"It wasn't too crazy, but it was crazy enough to be fun and fun to watch," he said. "So that was good."
Joey Logano, Keselowski's teammate with Team Penske and the only driver to advance to the final round during each of this year’s qualifying sessions, saw his streak come to an end at Talladega. Second fastest in the first round, Logano's No. 22 Ford failed to advance beyond round No. 2. (Richmond qualifying was rained outand Logano started 17th there.)
"It's kind of a bummer," Logano said. "I would have like to keep that streak going, but I knew this was going to be the wild-card event. It's just like the race, anyone can win this race; anyone can put it on the pole today.
"It's such a crazy day and I wish we did a little better, that's all."
Logano, one of two drivers with multiple wins this year, will start 16th.
Brian Vickers, 18th in Sunday's lineup, said "It's all about catching the right draft at the right time and being with the right group of guys.
"It's a tough situation and it's interesting," the Michael Waltrip Racing driver said. "I think it's by far better qualifying than we've ever seen at superspeedways ... in the history of the sport. It didn’t work out for us this time, but it could just as easily work out for us next time."
A late-session push by Brian Scott, Paul Menard and AJ Allmendinger put those drivers 1-2-3 on the starting grid. Casey Mears and Austin Dillon will start fourth and fifth.
Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek, Eric McClure and JJ Yeley failed to qualify for Sunday's race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., winner of the season-opening Daytona 500, qualified a surprisingly low 30th.
"We just didn't run a fast enough lap with the people we were around," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. "It wasn't a whole lot of fun to be honest with you. But, I'd like to do some heat races or something maybe. That would be a little bit more fun that this."
Matt Kenseth called the qualifying session "a little bit of a goat rope," but said the effort was much better than the old format -- which consisted of single-car runs.
"I hate using the word boring because I think all racing is interesting," Kenseth said, "but there wasn't anything more boring than watching single-car qualifying at Talladega.
"So from that aspect, I think having group qualifying is something to watch, something interesting, something for people to pay attention to ... a great idea.
"Single-car qualifying is 100 percent about the car, but at least here you've got some strategies and you can mess around a little bit and try to hold back and do stuff like that."