Possible traffic jam ahead at Talladega

rseibel@macon.comMay 1, 2014 

Talladega is one of those tracks that always provides for some interesting racing.

The 2.66-mile tri-oval allows for a lot of speed to be built up, and the restrictor plates NASCAR mandates bunch everyone up to the point where one small error can send multiple cars into the wall or spinning into the infield.

Given the restlessness present right now among Sprint Cup Series drivers (Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose at Richmond on Saturday ... really?), we could see some interesting things happen this weekend, both on and off the track.

And that’s just from qualifying.

This weekend’s Aaron’s 499 will mark the first time NASCAR takes its new pack qualifying format to Talladega. How Sprint Cup drivers respond will make for some interesting viewing. Television executives are banking on some fireworks. Instead of being relegated to Fox Sports 1, Saturday’s qualifying session will air on the FOX broadcast network.

“It will be interesting and it’s just kind of a crap shoot just like the race, but it will be exciting, for sure,” Kevin Harvick said in a story posted on NASCAR.com. “It will definitely be better than watching three-and-a-half hours of one car going around the race track, I promise you that.”

The new qualifying format was created to add some excitement to what can be a mundane event. In past years, cars went out one at a time, each driving one timed lap to determine the starting grid.

With the new format, every car trying to qualify will have 25 minutes of shared track time to post a top lap speed. The 24 fastest cars move on to a second 10-minute period, and the fastest 12 from that period will advance to a final five-minute period that will determine the pole winner.

In other words, qualifying now includes the factor of traffic on the track. And the spectacular crashes of Talladega races past are now more likely to happen in qualifying, as well.

We’ll see Saturday how this change plays out on a superspeedway. Daytona didn’t use the new format for the Daytona 500 because of its unique qualifying system involving the twin duels, so this is the first time we’ll see this format on a restrictor plate track.

And, by the way, the defending Aaron’s 499 champion is Unadilla’s David Ragan. The win last year was his second career Sprint Cup race victory.

If qualifying goes as expected, there could be some fun times ahead Saturday.

Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or rseibel@macon.com

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