TALLADEGA, Ala. – At wildly unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway, having a fast car is preferred and talent is obviously necessary.
But typically, you also need some luck at Talladega, to earn a trip to Gatorade Victory Lane. It helps to make your own luck, by working your way toward the front of the field and trying to stay there. And if you’re fortunate enough to start a race at or near the front, it sure doesn’t hurt your chances.
Chase Elliott was the fortunate one Saturday during Foodland/Food Giant Qualifying, capturing the Busch Pole Award for Sunday’s (1 p.m. CT/local) 1000Bulbs.com 500, the second of three races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of 12.
Elliott, winner of Talladega’s spring GEICO 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race this season, posted a fast lap of 192.707 mph in the No. 9 Chevrolet of Hendrick Motorsports. Elliott is trying to achieve the eighth season sweep in the track’s history; the last sweep was by Jeff Gordon, in 2007.
Starting alongside Elliott on Sunday will be his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, who posted a 192.552-mph lap in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Two other Hendrick drivers, William Byron and Jimmie Johnson, will start in the second row. Defending race champion Aric Almirola will start fifth
“Our car has pace, which is a good thing because cars with pace are able to set the standard [at Talladega],” Elliott said. “Hopefully it will drive well tomorrow.
“I’m sure we’ll see some gamesmanship by the different manufacturers … we’ll try to stay with our friends as much as we can and stay out of trouble.”
Denny Hamlin, who had the fastest practice speed on Friday in the No. 11 Toyota, failed to complete his qualifying run due to engine problems. He will start from the rear of the field on Sunday due to the resulting engine change.
Also Saturday, Spencer Boyd, driver of the No. 20 Chevrolet, won the Sugarlands Shine 250, the first of three Round of 6 playoff races for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. The Round of 6 races will decide the Championship Four who will vie for the series title in the season finale, Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Trucks at Talladega never disappoint, as four-wide, door-to-door action is the norm with the always-possible Big One looming.
By Talladega standards, Saturday’s action was relatively tame, with five caution-causing incidents. The fourth incident, which was vintage ’Dega, occurred on Lap 88 of the 94-lap/250-mile race, when trucks driven by front-running Ross Chastain (No. 45 Chevrolet) and Sheldon Creed (No. 2 Chevrolet) got together and collected eight other vehicles. That necessitated a red-flag period for clean-up.
The race was restarted with six laps to go but two laps later another caution flag flew, after contact involving Todd Gilliland (No. 4 Toyota) and Gus Dean (No. 12 Chevrolet). That led to NASCAR Overtime – with the race destined to go beyond its scheduled length.
After the last restart, Johnny Sauter (No. 13 Ford), appeared headed for the victory and indeed crossed the finish line first. Moments earlier, though, he had dropped his truck below the inside yellow line to block Riley Herbst’s (No. 51 Toyota) inside pass attempt. NASCAR ruled that was a violation, giving the win to Boyd, who originally was listed as the second-place finisher.
Boyd is not one of the six drivers still in championship contention. Saturday’s victory was his first in the truck series.
“I got out [of the truck] and they told me it was under review, that you never know what’s going to happen,” Boyd, 24, said. “My guys gave me a great truck and a second place was amazing for us, we were happy. Then one of my crew guys said, ‘You won!’ I was like, I can’t believe this. Two weeks ago I wasn’t going to run this race; we put this [effort] together late.”
Better late than never, apparently.
— Talladega Superspeedway —