TALLADEGA, Ala. – A group decision for all of the cars powered by Earnhardt Childress engines to work together at Talladega Superspeedway proved the correct call in NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying format.
Richard Childress Racing drivers and their affiliates swept the first three rows on the starting grid for Sunday’s race, with the pole going to Brian Scott, who will lead the field to the green flag in just his fifth career Sprint Cup Series start.
“Who would have thought that, huh?” Scott asked after Saturday’s qualifying session.
Cars with ECR engines took six of the 12 spots in the third and final round of knockout qualifying, and they all waited patiently on pit road for someone to make a move. It came with roughly 2 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the 5-minute session, when all 12 drivers made their way onto the track.
Tony Stewart posted the fastest lap as he worked with the other three Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, and as the clock neared the final buzzer, it appeared the three-time NASCAR champion had the pole locked up.
Then came the ECR pack of cars, with Ryan Newman leading, Scott somewhere in the middle and Paul Menard bringing up the rear. Team owner Childress had designated Newman as the driver to decide when the pack should go, and Menard was charged with pushing them along.
Just as time expired, the entire group shot past Stewart’s speed and moved to the top of the leaderboard.
It was Scott on the pole, followed by Menard and then AJ Allmendinger, an RCR-affiliated driver.
It was the first time NASCAR has used its new knockout format on a restrictor-plate track in the Sprint Cup Series. Daytona 500 qualifying in February was done with traditional single-car runs.
Elliott Sadler won a three-lap shootout to the checkered flag in the Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superspeedway.
The race Saturday was stopped for a little more than nine minutes to clean the track following a six-car accident that began when Jeremy Clement was turning into an outside wall and his car shot back into traffic.
There were three laps remaining on the restart, and Sadler had to throw several blocks to hold off a charge from the pack of traffic behind him.
Chris Buescher finished second and Regan Smith, winner of last year’s race, was third.