Hendrick Motorsports dominates at 'Dega
After a disappointing Daytona 500, Hendrick Motorsports made a statement Saturday with all four teammates locking down the top four positions in qualifying for the Aaron‘s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Jeff Gordon led the charge with a lap of 178.248 mph followed by Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Gordon’s 70th career pole placed him third on the all-time list — one ahead of Cale Yarborough.
"It is funny how a plan comes together when you least expect,” Gordon said. “I was in the (team hauler) after I made my run, Mark was sitting second and Jimmie was coming up and we were tracking his run and knew it was a good one. I said 'Come on. Second. Second. Second' because if he was second it just made it all perfect for us with the plan that we have in place so far.
“He was second and put Mark right behind us and the No. 88 behind him, so it is as good as we could possibly ask for. If we could write the script, we couldn't have written it any better.”
Rick Hendrick became the third owner in NASCAR Sprint Cup history to qualify four cars in the top four positions. Roush Fenway Racing pulled off the feat in 2005 at Auto Club Speedway. Pete DePaolo was the first owner to accomplish the deed in 1956 at Charlotte.
Still, Gordon’s 53.723 second lap was the slowest pole-winning circuit in the history of the 2.66-mile speedway. The time comes after NASCAR introduced a smaller restrictor plate for Talladega. The holes in the current plates measure 7/8 of an inch, 1/64 of an inch smaller than the plates used at Daytona.
Gordon acknowledged he felt the lack of speed during his lap.
"It felt like I could walk faster than I was going out there,” Gordon said. “The one thing that I mentioned to NASCAR when we were talking about it. It is the proper restrictor plate to be on the car for the race. I don't see, and I know that I am throwing out some things that our engine builders probably will not like, but I just don't see why we're not running a different restrictor plate for qualifying or a different spoiler. Something that NASCAR hands us that is the same for everybody to make it more interesting.
“To me, that qualifying session was just a snoozer. It is because we are doing two laps by ourselves doing 177 mph. That had nothing to do with me. Anybody could drive that car at that speed. So let's make it a little more interesting. I don't see why we can't get up there into the 200 mile-per-hour range qualifying.”
Gordon’s lap was just short of 8 mph slower that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pole-winning circuit at Daytona and 6 mph slower than last fall's pole at Talladega.
Martin said “a lot of effort” was put into the restrictor-plate program at Hendrick Motorsports since Daytona, and there were “significant improvements in many areas” of their cars.
Johnson surmised that “with the smaller plate, maybe we found something that works better with our combination.”
“With the plates on the cars in general, the power is so different here than what we tune with and have to adjust and work with,” Johnson said. “The competition is tough out there, regardless of manufacturer.
“All teams seem to have plenty of power. And those Fords at the last race weren’t slouches at all. I think on the bigger track stuff, the unrestricted stuff, they’ve got plenty. We’ve got plenty, but we always want to have more.”
Despite the speed the Hendrick drivers found in single-car runs, it’s still unknown how that will transfer into the race when the cars tandem draft under competition. Certainly, with all four Hendrick cars starting up front there will be no lack of dancing partners — at least at the start of the race.
Gordon leads the series with six career wins at the track. But when it comes to choosing who will be his competition Sunday, the four-time Cup champion said, “Everybody else out there.”
“Anybody can win this race,” Gordon said. “We saw in Daytona. Look at the top five. There are guys that you wouldn't necessarily expect to be up there, so anybody can win this race. I look at the competition as being ... first of all the biggest competition is ourselves to make sure we survive and get to the finish. You have to watch for overheating. You've got to stay out of the wrecks. You have got to have kind of a flawless day to get yourself there.
“Even if you are there with five to go doesn't guarantee you are going to make it to the finish line because of all the madness and craziness that is going to go on the last few laps. Beyond that, it could come down to a restart and two guys get connected and take off and get a good restart. It could be anybody. Just two guys that work well together and are up front at the end."
What, me worry?
Kyle Busch qualified 34th but he seemed far from concerned when he climbed from the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota.
In fact, he was laughing.
Busch did everything he was “told to do” and hit his marks while putting down his laps.
“That’s all she had,” Busch said. “We’re not worried about that. We’ll see what happens here on race day and how well our car works with some other guys out there. We know that it’s a good race car. We feel like we’ve got the opportunity here to try to win this weekend.”
At Talladega, qualifying is more important for pit selection than determining the final outcome of the race. Busch qualified 22nd in the Nationwide Series race then led four times for a total of four laps — including the last one.
During Sprint Cup practice, Busch drafted with drivers other than his teammates to determine who would make the best partners for Sunday.
“We know how our cars work with our teammates — we know how to work with our teammates,” Busch said. “You kind of want to experiment and see exactly how many other cars you can work well with first, and then when it comes down to the end of the race, you just have more friends to play with.”
Where in the world is Robby?
Robby Gordon was MIA at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, leaving Sam Hornish Jr. to qualify the No. 7 Fast Five/Speed Energy Dodge.
Gordon was enjoying the scenery at the Long Beach Grand Prix in Southern California.
Following qualifying, Hornish’s time was disallowed when the car did not pass the height sticks in inspection for being too low in front.
What was Robby Gordon Motorsports’ penalty? The No. 7 Dodge will have to start from the back of the field. Not really a big deal. With Gordon not qualifying his own car, he was going to have to drop back at the start of the race regardless.
47 – Career wins for Kyle Busch in the NASCAR Nationwide Series
56 – Lead changes in Saturday’s race, a Nationwide Series record.
22 – Races Mark Martin has qualified 10th or better at Talladega
21 – Cars collected in the Big One on Lap 88 of the Aaron’s 312 Nationwide Series race
8 – Top 10 finishes for Joe Nemechek in 17 Talladega starts
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not a fan of tandem drafting. The five-time Talladega Superspeedway winner would prefer the old-style racing.
“I don’t really like the two-car stuff,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know, just silly.”