Talladega announces faster qualifying formats; Truck race start time moved up

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Talladega Superspeedway is fast, but when it comes to qualifying at the upcoming Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck races there (Oct. 17-19), the fast will get even faster.

The track announced Thursday that it will implement “more rapid qualifying formats” for both the GEICO 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and fred’s 250 Powered By Coca-Cola NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races.

“It’s appropriate that our facility, which was built as a palace of speed, will play host to this new qualifying format where achieving speed quickly will be pivotal,” said Talladega chairman Grant Lynch. “There will be intense pressure on the drivers and teams to make their laps count, and it’s going to be one heck of a chess match to see the tactics for success. We know our fans will enjoy it.”

According to a track media release, “Both national series’ qualifying will take on a more fast-paced look that should resemble race conditions and promises to bring out the best in the competitors.”

“This revision in national series qualifying at Talladega should be more exciting for our fans,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition and Racing Development. “It will feature a more accelerated pace, provide greater opportunity for team strategy to come into play and it should more closely resemble actual racing conditions.”

Here’s a breakdown of the changes in qualifying for both series:

  • Three rounds of qualifying with the first round divided into two groups of competitors based on a random draw held prior to the event. The first round is five minutes in length for each group.
  • The 24 drivers who post the fastest single lap speed from either of the first qualifying round groups will advance to the second round. The remaining competitors will be sorted based on their speed posted in the first round of qualifying in descending order.
  • There will be a 10-minute break after the completion of the first qualifying round and the 24 remaining competitors who advance to the second round will have their times reset.
  • The second qualifying round is five minutes in length and the 12 eligible competitors who post the fastest single lap speed will advance to the third and final round.
  • The fastest remaining competitors will earn positions 13-24 based on their fastest single lap speed posted in qualifying in descending order.
  • Following a five minute break, the 12 eligible competitors who advance to the final round will have their posted speeds reset.
  • The final qualifying round is five minutes in length and the fastest single lap speed will determine positions 1-12 in descending order.

The changes in qualifying could wind up being crucial for drivers in the Chase, as that weekend’s race is the sixth in the playoffs and will serve as the cutoff event for the Contender Round, which will slice the number of championship-eligible drivers from 12 to eight after the race.

Trucks qualifying will be Friday, Oct., 17, at 5:30 pm ET, while Sprint Cup qualifying will be Oct. 18 at 4:30 pm ET.

In addition to the qualifying changes, the track has moved up the start of the Oct. 18 fred’s 250 Truck Series race to a 1 pm ET start.

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Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.