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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Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

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“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).