Martin wins pole NASCAR Talladega

by Adil | 10:12 AM in , |

Martin wins pole NASCAR Talladega
Martin wins pole NASCAR Talladega, Despite rule changes by NASCAR intended to break up the two-car tandems, Sunday's Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway is expected to remain a team effort.
Some of those partnerships, though, might be jumbled.

Mark Martin won the pole position Saturday with a 181.367-mph lap on the 2.66-mile oval, completing Hendrick Motorsports' sweep of pole positions in all four restrictor-plate races this season.

Martin's No. 5 Chevrolet will be paired Sunday with the No. 24 of teammate Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be forming another Hendrick duo.

But the order of the Johnson-Earnhardt train figures to receive heavy scrutiny. Earnhardt pushed Johnson to victory at Talladega in April, and after the five-time defending series champion took the checkered flag, Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, radioed, "Dale, thank you, man. That was awesome. … Dale, next one's on us, brother."

Johnson attempted to return the favor by pushing Earnhardt in the July race at Daytona International Speedway, but the pair was separated late in the race. He isn't certain if Sunday will bring an opportunity to help Earnhardt (who has five wins at Talladega) end a 27-race winless streak in restrictor-plate race.

"Believe me, the Junior Nation has not forgotten that statement that Chad made," Johnson said, smiling. " and we have made as a group a huge effort at Daytona to get it to work but with his car up front, we did not have the luck that we needed. We noticed that in the April race here, that for whatever reason, we were better off with (Johnson) leading and (Earnhardt) pushing.

"We worked yesterday on both combinations and we will just have to see how things unfold in the race, and where we feel that we are the fastest. If we cannot win the race we certainly want him to and will try to. Of course both of us want to win, and we will do all that we can, but they take a picture of the finish, and you just want to make sure you are in the picture. If you are in the picture, you have a shot at it."

Though NASCAR tweaked some rules that increased horsepower and made it more difficult to keep engines cooler (and thus risking overheating if cars tried to stay hooked together for too many laps), Friday's Cup practices indicated the two-car tandems likely will remain prevalent and almost certainly will decide the outcome in Sunday's race.

There seem to be myriad approaches to choosing partners in the race. Some drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup (such as Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth at Roush Fenway Racing) plan to work with their teammates. Others will cross manufacturer lines to pair off. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Ryan Newman (Stewart-Haas Racing) have become frequent partners.

Penske Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch both are in the Chase but will work separately. Keselowski will be pushing Dave Blaney for much of the race, and Busch will be behind Regan Smith.

The team believes it's the best strategy for avoiding the loss of both cars in a multicar pileups that are infamous at Talladega.

"If you put them together and the "Big One" happens, it's like a company flying all their execs on one plane," Penske director of competition Travis Geisler said. "It's bad policy that way."

Geisler said Blaney and Smith will take their strategy cues from Penske — pitting with Busch and Keselowski and taking the same number of tires on every stop. Though their cars aren't in the top 25 in points, Blaney and Smith have solid horsepower and fit the bill as perfect cohorts.

"You have to find someone committed to your cause," Geisler said. "If we try to find a top 10 guy, they'll be more committed to their cause than yours. (Blaney) knows he'll have a hard time finding a good partner if he doesn't line up with (Keselowski).

"The guy being pushed also tends to be the guy who gets spun out, so you have to find someone willing to be in the pushed position, because you're going to drive them into the wreck. If you have Brad and Kurt together, one of your guys gets screwed at some point."

Tony Stewart seems the Chase driver most at risk of being shuffled out of contention Sunday. The driver-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing doesn't work with Newman because Stewart prefers to run at the rear of the field for most of the race while his teammate likes being up front.

Stewart worked with Bobby Labonte and Landon Cassill during practice Friday. He often has teamed with David Gilliland this season, but the Front Row Motorsports driver was told not to work with Stewart's No. 14 Chevy at Talladega because Ford Racing doesn't want its drivers helping title contenders for rival manufacturers. Gilliland likely will be paired with teammate Travis Kvapil and also could help Edwards and Kenseth.

"It is such a tight points battle, and we are going to try to help the Ford guys out all we can," said Gilliland, who finished third in the Daytona 500. "Tony was great to work with those last couple of races, and you never know what will happen. If you get down to the end and he is out of a partner and something happens to Travis, we are 100% comfortable working together. As far as our initial plan, it is to work with Ford."

Source: usatoday


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