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 today’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.
Casey Mears, also an affiliated driver, qualified fourth and was followed by Daytona 500 pole-sitter Austin Dillon and Newman.
“It was just a great plan by RCR, getting all the RCR alliance cars working together,” Allmendinger said. “We worked on that (in practice) and felt like we all had great speed. Ryan was the guinea pig for all of us and timed it right, and that last session, it was just basically who was going to wait the longest to go out there.”