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Auto notes: Expect the unexpected at Talladega


TALLADEGA, Ala. – NASCAR’s elite are gathered in the heart of Alabama for its biannual scrum known as restrictor-plate racing. But they may as well grab a passport and jaunt to a casino in Monte Carlo.

These are the days of wild odds and crapshoots and the possibility of a midpacker journeyman named David Ragan winning at one of the most iconic venues in NASCAR country.

“This is very much a crapshoot, a roulette wheel,” Ragan said Friday, acknowledging a reporter’s question about the quirky luck scenario. “There are so many factors that go in to what happens because you’re dependent on one another in the draft.”

Ragan won the race here a year ago with a push from Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland in a highly unexpected double-double. But that’s typical of what happens at Talladega Superspeedway.

Unpredictability is the common thread, especially now that group qualifying is part of the equation. Forget the monotonous one-car drone of qualifying in past seasons. The wild-card element gets amped up now with 47 drivers on the track for the first 25-minute qualifying session today. The top 24 will advance to a 10-minute session, and the top 12 advance to a final 5-minute session.

Fox will televise qualifying live, starting at 10 a.m. Pacific. It’s believed to be the first time that a qualifying session has been aired live on network TV, other than the Daytona 500.

Earnhardt signs with Nationwide

The latest good news for 2014 Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a three-year sponsorship with Nationwide Insurance.

Under the agreement with the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team, Nationwide will be a primary sponsor for 12 Sprint Cup races in 2015 and 13 each during the two years after that.

Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick says through the partnership “we’ll build another program that moves the needle for their business. The opportunities are endless.”

Earnhardt is a two-time Nationwide Series champion and has 20 Sprint Cup wins. He said the company is a good fit with his team

“I can’t imagine a better scenario and I think Nationwide is very excited to get going and start working together in the Cup series,” Earnhardt said.

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