Richard Childress Racing dominates top 6 spots in Sprint Cup qualifying at ‘Dega; Brian Scott earns first career pole

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Drivers, crew chiefs and team owners expected wrecks and surprises during Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying at Talladega.

While the expected wrecks didn’t materialize, the eventual qualifying grid was definitely a surprise – if not a shock.

Part-time Cup driver Brian Scott will start Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 on the pole, with Richard Childress Racing teammate Paul Menard next to him on the outside of the front row.

It was Scott’s first career Sprint Cup pole (in five Cup career starts) and marks the ninth different No. 1 qualifier in the first 10 races of the 2014 season.

RCR dominated the qualifying session, securing four of the top six spots, with Austin Dillon starting fifth and Ryan Newman sixth. In addition, two RCR-affiliated teams (they purchase motors and chassis from RCR) rounded out the top 6 with AJ Allmendinger qualifying third and Casey Mears fourth.

“It was a team effort,” Scott said. “We had a plan from the beginning to work as a team. With Newman leading it, he was the point man. … It’s awesome for everybody at Richard Childress Racing. We were able to get the right draft and the right suck there at the last second to get the pole. I couldn’t be more happy for everybody.”

But RCR wasn’t the only team that surprised. So, too, did Stewart Haas Racing, which placed all four of its drivers in the top 12 qualifiers, led by – surprise – Danica Patrick, who start Sunday’s race seventh.

As for Patrick’s SHR teammates, Kevin Harvick will be alongside her in the fourth row, Kurt Busch will start ninth and team co-owner Tony Stewart will start 12th.

Among other notable events in qualifying:

* In the first round, Kyle Busch (200.574 mph) and Joey Logano (200.171) became the first two drivers to run qualifying laps of more than 200 mph at Talladega since 1987, one year before restrictor plates were mandated for races at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

* In all, 11 of the top 12 qualifiers were powered by Chevrolet. Ford managed just one qualifier in the top 12: Carl Edwards, who will start 10th. As for Toyota, Brian Vickers was the top qualifier – but that’s not saying much, given Vickers will start on the inside of Row 10 in 19th position.

* In an oddity, no drivers took to the track for the first three-plus minutes of the 12-car final round. Finally, with two minutes left, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon led the pack onto the track.

* For the first time this season, Richmond winner Joey Logano failed to make the 12-driver final round during qualifying.

* Making the final start of his lengthy Cup career, two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte will start 38th.

* Defending race winner David Ragan will start 39th.

* Four drivers failed to qualify: Eric McClure, J.J. Yeley, Dave Blaney and Joe Nemecheck.

Here’s how the field will line up for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499:

Here’s how the field will line up for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499:

Row 1 Brian Scott (198.200 mph), Paul Menard (197.888)

Row 2 AJ Allmendinger (197.704), Casey Mears (197.370)

Row 3 Austin Dillon (197.362), Ryan Newman (197.297)

Row 4 Danica Patrick 194.995), Kevin Harvick (194.393)

Row 5 Kurt Busch (193.619), Carl Edwards (193.615)

Row 6 Jeff Gordon (193.486), Tony Stewart (188.958)

Row 7 Brad Keselowski (194.963), Michael McDowell (194.959)

Row 8 Aric Almirola (194.911), Joey Logano (194.880)

Row 9 Michael Annett (194.098), Brian Vickers (194.035)

Row 10 Kyle Busch (193.541), Jimmie Johnson (193.478)

Row 11 Matt Kenseth (193.458), Reed Sorensen (190.890)

Row 12 Trevor Bayne (190.575), Ryan Truex (197.913)

Row 13 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (197.908), Marcos Ambrose (197.835)

Row 14 Clint Bowyer (197.806), Michael Waltrip (197.806)

Row 15 Kyle Larson (197.770), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (197.765)

Row 16 Cole Whitt (197.721), Jamie McMurray (197.443)

Row 17 Alex Bowman (197.403), Denny Hamlin (197.378)

Row 18 Greg Biffle (197.244), Josh Wise (197.029)

Row 19 Terry Labonte (196.746), Justin Allgaier (196.230)

Row 20 David Ragan (195.732), David Gilliland (194.880)

Row 21 Landon Cassill (194.389), Kasey Kahne (engine change)

Row 22 Martin Truex Jr. (engine change)

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IMSA: Rolex 24 Team Preview – GTLM

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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MotorSportsTalk’s Kyle Lavigne continues the team preview of entries for the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. At nine entries, it is the smallest of the three classes entered in this weekend’s Rolex 24 and down from last year’s 11 entries, but past events indicate it may be the event’s most competitive class.

The 2017 Rolex 24 saw four different marques from four different teams battling for the GTLM win late in the race, with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing taking the win with Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais. And in 2016, Corvette Racing saw its No. 3 and 4 entries duel to the checkered flag, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler victorious in the No. 4 machine.

Below is a breakdown of the teams entered in the GTLM class.

Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
No. 3 (Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Mike Rockenfeller)
No. 4 (Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler)

Outlook: Corvette Racing has been a perennial powerhouse in GT racing over the entirety of the 21st century, and that isn’t something that’s likely to change. Coming off their 13th championship last year – Garcia and Magnussen took home last year’s GTLM driver’s crown – Corvette Racing now hunts for its fourth Rolex 24 triumph.

With an unchanged package that is proven to be both fast and reliable, Corvette Racing looks set to again feature prominently in the GTLM battle. Barring problems, both cars should be battling up front for the win.

BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M8 GTLM
No. 24 (Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus)
No. 25 (Alexander Sims, Connor De Phillippi, Bill Auberlen, Philipp Eng)

Outlook: Of all the GTLM entries, BMW Team RLL sees by far the most change to its program. Out is the M6 GTLM and in is the brand new M8 GTLM. Jesse Krohn, Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus, Philipp Eng and Connor De Phillippi are all new drivers to the team, while veteran Bill Auberlen will only contest the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018.

At the Roar Before the 24, the program appeared to lack speed. Sunday qualifying, to decide pit stall and garage selection, saw the No. 25 qualify the better of the two BMWs, but one second slower than the next quickest car – the BMW set a 1:45.056 for seventh in GTLM, behind the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, which set a 1:44.037.

It remains to be seen if there is more speed in the BMW machines, but they remain the most unproven of the GTLM entries. A victory seems out of reach at the moment, but that could change if the package improves.

Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
No. 62 (Toni Vilander, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Davide Rigon)

Outlook: Risi Competizione came excruciatingly close to winning last year’s Rolex, but a late-race battle between James Calado and Dirk Mueller, of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, saw Mueller come out on top, while Calado was shuffled back to third by the time the checkered flag fell.

They did not win an event last year, but this is a team that knows how to win big races – they have previously won the Motul Petit Le Mans – and should once again prove to be a major player in the GTLM battle.

The only major change comes in their driver lineup, with Alessandro Pier Guidi and David Rigon joining the lineup and Giancarlo Fisichella departing. But, with Calado and Toni Vilander returning to anchor the driving team, this change is not expected to slow the team down. Expect them to battle at the front all race long.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
No. 66 (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais)
No. 67 (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon)

Outlook: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing returns to the Rolex 24 as defending race winners – Hand, Mueller, and Bourdais delivered the victory in 2017. Further, they return with the same driver lineups and car they used. In short, every indication is that they enter this year’s event as favorites to repeat.

The Roar Before the 24 gave further evidence of this. Both of the cars were among the quickest in every session at the Roar, and Sunday qualifying saw its No. 66 end up at the top of the board, with the No. 67 in third.

The GTLM field is strong all the way around, but this team is likely the favorite entering the event.

Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR

No. 911 (Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, Frederic Makowiecki)
No. 912 (Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Gianmaria Bruni)

Outlook: Porsche GT Team brings with it a star-studded driver lineup that features former class winners of the Rolex 24, former overall winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a ton of all-around talent.

The team finished a close second at last year’s Rolex 24, with the No. 911 entry, behind the race-winning Ford from Chip Ganassi’s stable. Later that year, they visited victory lane – Porsche finished 1-2 at Lime Rock Park, with the No. 911 taking the victory – proving that the mid-engine 911 RSR is more than up to the task and gives the team everything they need to be contenders.

Porsche will have a fight on their hands, but this is a team that expects to compete for a victory, and they did win this event in 2014. They round out a titanic GTLM grid and should be a fixture throughout the day.

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