Updated: May 2, 2014, 5:09 PM ET

Revisiting Talladega

Winning at Talladega is a pretty big deal. What does David Ragan remember about his Sprint Cup victory there last spring, and what does it mean to him now?

Drivers on edge for knockout qualifying at Dega

By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The "big one" might not wait for Sunday this time -- it could come as early as Saturday's qualifying.

"The potential is there," Matt Kenseth said, for the kind of massive pileup drivers have come to expect in races here, but not in running for the pole.

"I think it's going to happen," Joey Logano said. "I think there'll be a wreck in this qualifying session, just because of the closing rate" -- that is, how quickly one car catches another in the draft, which will be used for the first time in Cup knockout qualifying in groups.


Logano comes in red-hot, fresh off a second win this season and therefore padlocked into the Chase. So he and Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski can afford to go all-out in Sunday's Aaron's 499 -- and go for broke in qualifying, as well.

Logano is the only driver to make all segments of all qualifying sessions thus far this season.

"That's something to be proud of," he said. But, "This is the one real wild card."

Kenseth was last year's winningest driver, with seven, but he has yet to win this year.

Although the kaleidoscope of the ever-changing drafting lines sometimes makes qualifying seem less than crucial here, "Everybody's going to try to do a strategy to get the fastest lap they can, to start as far as they can toward the front," Kenseth said. In other words, it's better to be running in front of the wrecks here rather than to run up on them.

But behind the pack is where you need to be to win the pole Saturday, Kenseth figures, going into the three group sessions of 25, 10 and five minutes.

"The people in the big pack aren't going to be the ones running the fast lap," Kenseth said. "It's going to be the people behind the big pack ...

"The bigger the group is, and the farther you are back from it to a certain point, the bigger run you're going to get and the faster lap time you're going to get.

"That's no secret," Kenseth said. "Everybody knows that. So if everyone's waiting for that group [to form], there's never going to be a group. So I think it's going to be kind of funny to watch."

But maybe not to do.

Logano is wary of a wreck "just because of the closing rate [at which] you're going to be catching some of these guys," he said. For example, if "a guy's in the middle of the racetrack and you're going to the bottom [to get around him] and he decides he wants to get out of the way and goes to the bottom -- well, shoot, you're going to get in a crash.

"You've just got to be on your toes throughout the whole session."

Logano and Kenseth both figure the first few minutes of the first session will most closely resemble the last laps of a race here.

"The first round is where you're going to have your fast lap times, and where you're going to have to make more calculations or more aggressive moves," Kenseth said. "Once they start thinning the field out [by eliminations], it's going to change.

"But there's always the potential for a wreck when you put 43 cars out there."

"I think you have to put your lap up pretty quick," Logano said. "Because after the first five minutes, the top 18 cars or so are probably going to pit and not be out there. So the less cars there are on the track, the harder it is to run that fast lap. ...

"As each session goes on, it's going to get a little bit calmer, because there's going to be less cars out there," Logano said.

But for a change, the first five minutes of qualifying here might look something like the last five minutes of a race.


Earnhardt won't risk much in Saturday Cup qualifying

You'll pardon Dale Earnhardt Jr. if he doesn't care to get involved in whatever craziness might arise in Saturday's most-anticipated knockout qualifying session of the season.

Earnhardt, winner of the only restrictor-plate race thus far this season, the Daytona 500, considers Talladega "a very laid-back atmosphere," and he plans to keep it that way.


For Sunday's Aaron's 499, "We built a brand-new race car, so our willingness to take risks is going to be pretty limited throughout that [qualifying] process," he said Friday.

"We just need to get into the field with the car; it doesn't matter where you start, other than just picking [a stall] on pit road."

Earnhardt ought to know, having virtually owned Talladega Superspeedway between 2001 and 2004, winning four in a row and five out of seven.

He hasn't won here since '04 -- but then again, he hadn't won the Daytona 500 since '04 until he won it this February.

So, coming in here, "I'm pretty confident," he said.

But in the race itself, "The car gives you the confidence" to make the right moves in the drafting lines, he said. "You get a sense of the car's ability ...

"When the car is very good and you appreciate what the car is doing throughout the day, you tend to expect it to make the moves you want to make, and accomplish what you want to accomplish in the draft late in the race."

That pretty well summarizes his relationship with his car in the Daytona 500. This is a new one, so who knows?

Earnhardt just doesn't want to mess it up in a wild qualifying session.

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