PAIRING UP — With NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying system in place this weekend, the way to post a fast lap is to go in drafting packs. During Friday afternoon’s final Happy Hour round of practice for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, teams used a variety of strategies, most involving multiple-car drafting packs. At one point in the session, all four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets joined with all four of their quasi-teammate Stewart-Haas Racing Chevys to go out. But when the Fords of Carl Edwards and Trevor Bayne tried to join them, the eight-car Chevrolet armada quickly peeled off and headed back down pit road.
"I don’t know why those guys didn’t want us to go with them," Edwards said of the Chevy drivers. "I think we just saw that group try really hard to stay together."
When all the dust settled, Bayne put his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford on the top of the Happy Hour speed charts with a lap of 199.015 miles per hour. Second was Edwards’ No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford at 198.965 mph. Tony Stewart was next in the first of the SHR Chevys, followed by Kyle and Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Danica Patrick. Just 27 of 47 cars entered took part in Happy Hour.
"It’s just superspeedway racing," said Bayne, who shocked the world by winning the Daytona 500 in 2011, the day after his 20th birthday. "You get sucked up behind somebody in the draft and you get a lucky lap. I wouldn’t put any weight on that. It’s just restrictor-plate practice. Anyone can be at the top of the board. It would be nice tomorrow. It’s kind of the luck of the draw, being in the right place at the right time. You can’t do it on your own. You have to have help."
REDEMPTION SONG – One driver looking for atonement at Talladega is Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing. Truex qualified on the outside pole for the Daytona 500, but finished 43rd after losing an oil-pump belt just 30 laps into NASCAR’s biggest race. Friday at Talladega, Truex topped the speed charts in the first round of practice, when he posted a best lap of 200.721 miles per hour. Justin Allgaier, defending race-winner David Ragan, Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Larson followed. Those five were the only drivers to break the 200 mph barrier.
"The car is fast, and we knew it would be as fast as it was in Daytona," said Truex, who sat out the final Happy Hour session. "We just didn’t have a chance to show the speed at Daytona. It’s good that we still have the speed in it. We put ourselves in the right spot today to hit the big number. I think we only did nine or 10 laps and everything felt good so we’re ready to go and qualify tomorrow."
ANOTHER UPSET COMING? – Last year, the comparatively low-budget Front Row Motorsports team pulled a stunning upset at Talladega, with David Ragan winning with a push from teammate David Gilliland. And while the Davids could conceivably slay the Goliaths again in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499, Ragan said that even if he wins and gets a slot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, he won’t be a threat for a series title.
"Really, we are not a Chase contender," Ragan said Friday at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. "We’re a wild-card contender. We can be that and there are a lot of other teams that may have a chance to win at a road course, may have a chance to put tires on late at Atlanta Motor Speedway that just chews up tires and kind of sneak a win out."
Still, Ragan said he and the team are trying to be the best at what they are capable of being.
"We are not consistent enough to win several races, click off five or six top-10s in a row and we realize that," Ragan said. "But what NASCAR has done has given us a chance to be in the Chase for the championship and that would really change the course of Front Row Motorsports and what we’re trying to achieve as a team and for me personally as a driver."
HITTIN’ THE ROAD — Former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty and 200 or so of his close friends begin this year’s Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America on Saturday in Carlsbad, Calif. The ride will end May 10 in Daytona Beach. Since 1995, more than 7,300 rides have logged 10.7 million total motorcycle miles and donated $15 million to Victory Junction and other children’s charities. Fans and spectators along the Charity Ride route may contribute to the Charity Ride’s "Small Change, Big Impact" program, which accepts donations at local stops. To follow Petty and the riders live, visit KPCharityRide or on Twitter and Instagram, @KPCharityRide and @KylePetty. For more information about the 20th Anniversary Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America or to make a contribution, go to kylepettycharityride.com/donate.
DOLLARS FOR DAYTONA – The Florida Legislature on Friday approved House Bill 7095, which according to Daytona International Speedway, "establishes a process by which sports franchises are able to apply to receive sales tax refunds from the state based on the amount of sales tax generated by the facility." Track officials said the $400 million Daytona Rising project "is eligible for application under the bill to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity." Gov. Rick Scott still needs to sign the bill before it becomes law.