After much anticipation, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hit the high-banked Talladega Superspeedway for knockout qualifying. Although it was rather messy, especially in round one, things worked out rather well.
Brian Scott, 26, has won the pole for the Aaron's 499 at Talladega. Scott, a full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series driver for Richard Childress Racing, is schedule to race in NASCAR's top-tier division in no more than 10 events this year. Making just his fifth career start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Scott now has one-third of the amount of poles which he has earned in 150 Nationwide Series starts (three poles). Prior to his impressive pole award at Talladega, his best qualifying position was 12th for the Daytona 500 this year, and 19th in his first career start at Charlotte last October.
Scott was also fastest in the second round of qualifying with a speed of 196. 911 mph. He was able to take advantage of going out in a pack with the entire RCR team as well as those with an alliance with RCR. Scott was at the tail end of the pack in the final round of qualifying, but then he was in the perfect position with five cars in front of him and two cars behind him, propelling him to have the fastest speed out of the 12 drivers to make it to the third session. Paul Menard, Scott's RCR teammate, will start in the second position, creating a front row sweep for RCR.
"It is always a team effort to get these superspeedway poles. It is awesome for everyone at Richard Childress Racing. We were able to get the right draft at the last second," Scott said in a post-race interview with Fox.
Unfortunately, history is not on Scott's side. The last time a pole-sitter won at Talladega was Jeff Gordon back in 2007, and before that - Bobby Labonte way back in 1998. In 89 Sprint Cup Series races at NASCAR's largest track, only 12 drivers have led the field to the green flag and won the race.
Entering the qualifying session, drivers were extremely anxious as they did not know what to expect. On Friday afternoon, there was a wreck during Nationwide Series qualifying - forcing Sprint Cup Series drivers to question what their strategies will be as they prepared to go out for the first knockout qualifying at a restrictor plate track.
Seven Ford drivers were included in the first group which hit the race track to start the first session. While trying to figure out their strategies, there were some cars in packs flying by slower cars which were attempting to settle the order which they wanted to be in when they got on the race track. However, only one Ford driver, Carl Edwards, was able to advance to the final round of qualifying. And nine of the top-10 drivers, with the exception of Edwards, were driving for Chevrolet teams - primarily RCR or teams with an alliance with RCR.
Kyle Busch set the pace in round one with a top speed of 200.574 mph, but scraped the wall in his No. 18 Toyota. Busch's speed was the fastest overall in each of the three rounds.
Dave Blaney, Joe Nemechek, Eric McClure and J.J. Yeley missed the race. Each of those four drivers were 42nd and worse during the first session in qualifying.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., the two-time Daytona 500 champion, missed the cut for the second round. His No. 88 Chevrolet will start 31st on Sunday afternoon. However, he was not phased by starting towards the back of the pack. Besides Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael Waltrip, Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. were amongst those not making it past round one. Saturday's wild qualifying session also marked the first time that Team Penske driver, Joey Logano, missed the final session this season.
In round two, there was a caution for debris with less than three minutes remaining in the session. However, NASCAR did not stop the clock as the yellow flag came out, not the red flag. Per NASCAR rules - if the red flag is out, the clock stops. But when there is a yellow flag out - the clock continues. The green flag came out with less than a minute left, and several drivers were not able to complete a lap to enter the top-12.
Update: Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne failed post qualifying inspection. Kahne's No. 5 Chevrolet was too light while Truex Jr.'s No. 78 Chevrolet did not meet the necessary height requirements.