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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Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”