It’s pretty hard not to get up for a superspeedway race weekend, especially at Talladega. After the last few weeks of short(er) tracks on the schedule with stops at Bristol, Texas and Richmond, it’s nice to head back to a superspeedway. What may or may not be so nice for the leaders atop the standings in the Chase for the Sprint Cup is how their cars will fare at the 2.66-mile Alabama track on Sunday afternoon for the GEICO 500.
Points leader Kevin Harvick has done well in his 28 starts at Talladega, with an average finish of 15th, and a lone win at the track back in 2010 when he was with Richard Childress Racing. Since his time began at Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick has finished in the top 10 in both starts. With the way the No. 4 machine has been running this season, I think it’s fair to say that we may see that Chevy up front on Sunday.
As for last week’s winner, SHR teammate Kurt Busch has also been red hot as of late. Busch and crew chief Tony Gibson Sr. have combined to find the right mix of speed and solid pit stops each weekend to compete up front, and now it’s paying off. Busch also has 28 career starts at ‘Dega and has posted six top fives and 14 top 10s at the track, but has yet to reach Victory Lane. His last outing at this track resulted in a seventh-place finish, and with the consistency we’ve seen out of the No. 41 camp as of late, he should be expected to contend this weekend as well.
And, oh yeah, don’t count out driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Denny Hamlin, who won last year’s race in the spring at ‘Dega and has an average finish of 16th over his career at superspeedways. Hamlin and crew chief Dave Rogers seem to have built a good connection over their first nine races together, and it has shown. With their victory two weeks ago in Martinsville, the No. 11 team seems to be poised for another run into NASCAR’s postseason. Watching Hamlin to see how he handles his trip to Talladega will be another interesting storyline to follow this weekend.
Now onto this week’s Mailbox questions from you our readers….
Q: In the Cup Series, sometimes there are practices after qualifying. Are the teams allowed to change the setup that they qualified with? Also, whether there are two or three practice sessions before qualifying, which one is normally the race trim (last or next to last)? – Terry F., Alpine, Calif.
A: Hi Terry, thanks for the question. It’s actually perfect timing as we go to Talladega this weekend with the new rapid qualifying procedure. This week, drivers will make their qualifying runs with timed intervals rather than the traditional group style format that has been used at every other track this season.
To answer your question, teams do change their setups from a qualifying trim which is set for speed. You’ll see the front intake right above the splitter all taped up, the cars at higher gear ratios, etc. The cars are normally looser for the driver when they’re running wide-open out there alone in single-car qualifying sessions. In practice, when they’ll be drafting and/or with other cars, they will be set to race trim with a tighter driving condition, more downforce and lower gear ratios.
What’s important to remember here is, depending on the race, NASCAR also impounds the cars, meaning teams only have a set amount of time to work on their race setups and get their cars dialed in for the big show on Sunday.
Q: Hey Greg, do you think Erik Jones‘s rise to stardom is almost too quick? Clearly the kid has some talent and he’s with a good organization that has “room” now with Kyle Busch being sidelined with his leg. Just wondering what your thoughts were on him, and his chances in the Sprint Cup series? – Ronnie B., Timberlane, La.
A: Ronnie, thanks for writing in. Love talking about new talent in our sport. Jones is a pretty amazing talent, that’s for sure. The kid is 19 years old, believe it or not. He actually received his high school diploma last year on stage right before the Truck Series race at Texas! In his short thre years in NASCAR national premier touring series, he’s amassed four Camping World Truck Series victories, and most recently a win at Texas in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing. Earlier this month Jones also filled in for Denny Hamlin a couple of weeks ago in Bristol while Hamlin was suffering from neck spasms, marking Jones’ unofficial Sprint Cup Series debut (Jones was not officially scored as the driver since Hamlin was driving when race initially started). Jones finished 26th in the No. 11 in a setup that wasn’t tailored to his body and preferences. There’s no question he’s just plain talented.
I think we’ll see him in the No. 18 while Busch is out of the car due to his leg injury, especially now that David Ragan has signed with Michael Waltrip Racing to take over the No. 55 from Brett Moffitt (and Brian Vickers, who’s still out for an undetermined amount of time with his re-occurrence of blood clots).
That rumor about Jones has been swirling around, and, while some might say it is too fast to move Jones to Cup level racing so soon in a high-level ride, I say look at his resume in the short time he’s been racing. He’s already accomplished more than some drivers have in an entire career of racing, and he can’t even legally drink the Victory Lane champagne yet! I think Joe and JD Gibbs have a plan for Jones, and they know what they’re doing with him.
Eventually, I think they’ll see how the Daniel Suarez experiment pans out in the Xfinity Series. If he sticks around, maybe they bring Jones in another ride full-time. Whatever happens, I’ll be surprised if we don’t see Jones in the Cup Series full-time in the next few seasons.