Risk vs. reward: Go for broke or play it safe in ‘Dega qualifying?

Saturday's knockout qualifying session at Talladega Superspeedway should be entertaining, to say the least.

Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images

I know a lot of folks are really looking forward to the race before the race at Talladega. By that I mean knockout qualifying that takes place Saturday live on FOX at 1 p.m. ET. I’d like to tell you I know what’s going to happen. I’d like to proclaim it’s going to be the wildest qualifying session in the history of NASCAR.

The reality is none of us really know what is going to happen. I think we’ll have a better understanding once we watch the practice sessions on Friday. I’ve heard a lot of theories that these guys are going to go out to practice as teams, like the four Hendrick cars all working together to lay down a fast lap.

I don’t look for folks to run a whole lot. This is an impound race so they are going to need to take care of their cars. I think we will see very few single-car runs. The only way I think we will see any of those is if a team and driver are out there trying to find out something about their car they don’t like.

I really see it as a learning curve for everyone. The reason I say that is remember we’ve never had knockout qualifying at a superspeedway. We didn’t do this in February at Daytona where the historic Daytona 500 qualifying format was preserved. So I’m telling everyone to expect the unexpected because we really don’t know.

Sprint Cup Series qualifying at Talladega to air on FOX

You hear us say it all the time, but where you qualify at a restrictor-plate race like Talladega really isn’t all that important. If you think you have a chance at winning the pole, then obviously you need to go for it.

We all know, however, that during the race at Talladega or Daytona, for that matter, other than it being a nice statistic, it really doesn’t matter where you start those races.

As an old crew chief, to me it’s all about risk versus reward. Single car qualifying runs are gone. At Talladega it will be pack racing in practice that determines who sits on the pole. I don’t want to see my car all wadded up because my driver took an unnecessary risk because he or she thought they might win the pole.

The last thing you want to have to do is roll out the backup car because you got yourself caught up in a wreck trying to win the pole for a race where it really doesn’t matter where you start. That’s just not very smart at all.