TALLADEGA, AL – Under bright sunny skies, NASCAR returned to the biggest and baddest race track on the planet Thursday. The Nationwide Series drivers took to the high banks of Talladega Superspeedway in preparation for Saturday’s Aaron’s 312, part of an incredible lineup during the Aaron’s Dream Weekend which has a beautiful weather forecast – temperatures in the 70s and 80s with “0” percent chance of precipitation.
And, it was bright smiles at the front of the pack. A trio of Roush Fenway Ford drivers sent a message to the rest of the field that the Ford contingent would be favorites during the much anticipated three-round elimination “Knockout” Coors Light Pole Award Qualifying Friday. It will mark the first time at NASCAR’s palace of speed that multiple cars will be on the track – in race-mode, using drafting and strategy – in three hotly contested short races to determine the starting lineup for Saturday’s Aaron’s 312.
Trevor Bayne led the way in the No. 6 Ford at 190.378 mph, followed closely by teammates Chris Buescher (190.370) and Ryan Reed (190.365 mph). Kyle Larson was a close fourth at 190.121 mph while David Ragan, last year’s Aaron’s 499 victor, was fifth at 189.808 mph. Defending Aaron’s 312 Champ Regan Smith finished 18th with a speed of 184.590. Sam Hornish Jr., who was 12th at 187.934 mph, will make his Joe Gibbs Racing Nationwide Series debut of 2014 Saturday in the No. 54 Toyota. He’s excited to be in both the new qualifying format on Friday as well as the race on Saturday.
“It’s nerve-racking,” said Hornish of Talladega’s qualifying, which will consist of three segments – 25, 10 and 5 minutes, cutting the full field down to 24 competitors after segment one, and down to 12 for the final run for glory. “It’s going to be interesting but I think that’s part of the fun of it, and there’s definitely going to be strategy involved as opposed to the last few years. ‘Ah, it’s all about the car. All I’ve got to do is get in it and turn it for a little bit.’ This is definitely bringing the driver back into it.”
Can he win both qualifying and the race? “It all depends on whether I manage to avoid what’s going on out there,” said Hornish, who has competed at Talladega since 2003. “It brings some guys that maybe haven’t had the experience, and gets them a little bit closer, and the guys that have a lot of experience, sometimes it takes it away.”
No matter, the weather conditions for the entire Aaron’s Dream Weekend are expected to be picture perfect – ideal for the best racing in NASCAR. In addition to qualifying, Friday’s slate includes practice and a new “group” qualifying for the ARCA Racing Series while NASCAR’s best – the Sprint Cup Series – will have nearly two hours of practice in preparation of their own “Knockout” qualifying, which takes placeSaturday.
Speaking of Saturday, it’s a full-day of activity, kicking off with the ARCA Racing Series International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200 at 10 a.m., followed by Knockout qualifying for the Sprint Cup teams at 12:10 p.m. and the Aaron’s 312 at 2 p.m. On Sunday, it’s the unpredictable Aaron’s 499.
Great tickets are still available for the whole weekend. At Talladega Superspeedway fans can sit in the most comfortable seats in NASCAR, watch the race on huge Sprint Vision screens and park and camp for free on the nearly 3,00 acre facility. This is more than a race, this is Talladega.
NASCAR returns to Talladega Superspeedway in 2014 with the Aaron’s Dream Weekend, which is set for May 2-4. The NASCAR Nationwide Series and ARCA Racing Series will take to the track on Saturday, May 3 while NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series machines take the green flag on Sunday, May 4. For ticket information, log onto www.talladegasuperspeedway.com.