Instead of triggering more excitement with a quicker pace through the rounds, the new qualifying format at Talladega Superspeedway yielded one of the most bizarre NASCAR qualifying sessions in a long time.
Needless to say, opinions were mixed following today’s events at Talladega Superspeedway – which ended with Brian Vickers on the pole, five Chasers in the last four rows of the grid, and a stunning DNQ for Roush Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Before Vickers entered the ‘Dega media center, second-place qualifier Jimmie Johnson and third-place qualifier A.J. Allmendinger tried to be diplomatic but didn’t know what to make of it all.
“It’s strange,” Allmendinger said. “It’s a weird format. I’m not sure if it’s any better than single-car qualifying. It’s hard to say, but it is what it is.”
Johnson himself said the new format – which begins with two groups of drivers each running for five minutes and having the Top 24 speeds across both groups advance to the second round – was “bizarre and different.”
However, the two also agreed in that if it was more exciting for the fans, then it’s worth the gamble.
“What the competitors want versus everyone else is usually different, as we all know,” Johnson said. “The best way to go about from a competition side is single-car runs, fastest car gets the pole and on down through the field.
“It’s that fine balance we’re trying to find in today’s world – balancing eyeballs watching versus what competition is in the garage area and what the garage wants to see.”
Both also empathized with those that did not make the show. Stenhouse and Justin Allgaier appeared to be joined in the DNQ club by Reed Sorenson, but a rules infraction on Joe Nemechek’s car caused his time to be disallowed – and enabled Sorenson to make the field in 36th (the last position that can be made on speed).
“I was shocked – I asked on the radio, ‘Are those the three guys going home?’,” said Allmendinger. “So, it’s a little bit shocking, but it’s not always fair.”
“If I was them, I’d be upset,” Johnson added. “But we all knew what the rules were coming into it and what could happen.”
That hasn’t stopped multiple other drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Stenhouse’s girlfriend/rival Danica Patrick, from sounding off on social media this evening about the format:
The focus of the Detroit Monster Energy Supercross round was on the mid-pack battle while Aaron Plessinger pulled away from the field, but when he crashed after hooking his foot in the dirt, the results once more looked like we’ve come to expect, with Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac sharing the podium for the fifth time in 10 rounds.
For Sexton, Plessinger’s late-race crash was a vindication of sorts. Several times already this season, Sexton has crashed while battling for the lead and the points that has cost him keeps him sporting the red plate. He lost points in Detroit for a different reason, however.
Sexton was allowed to keep the win, but was penalized seven points for jumping in a red cross section of the course. As a result, he dropped four points to Webb and two to Tomac. Sexton is now 17 points behind Webb in the championship hunt.
One week after snatching the red plate from Tomac for the first time in 2023, Webb stretched his advantage by two. With his second-place finish, Webb holds a three-point lead over Tomac, which essentially means both riders control their fate in the coming weeks. Webb continues to have a sweep of the top five this season with his sixth consecutive podium.
Coming off his worst finish of the season, Tomac rebounded to finish third. His eighth-place result last week was partially attributed to a stiff neck that hindered him in traffic and he still suffered some of those same effects in Detroit. Before Plessinger’s crash, he was destined to be the only rider in the three-man title scrum to finish off the podium in Detroit.
It is surprising what one position can do for one’s confidence.
Justin Barcia scored his fourth top-five of the season. He was part of the exciting four-man battle that dominated the middle stages of the race before Sexton and Webb gained a little separation. Finishing less than three seconds behind Tomac, he kept that rider honest for the entire race.
Coming off his first win of the season, Ken Roczen finished fifth. It was his seventh top-five of the season and it elevated him to fifth in the standings.
Hunter Lawrence tied his brother Jett Lawrence with 10 wins each after another dominating ride in the Detroit Supercross race and the results in the points continue to widen. With his fifth win in six rounds and a worst finish of third, Lawrence now has a 35-point advantage over Nate Thrasher with four rounds remaining. Finishes of 14th or better in the final four mains will give him his first 250 championship.
Jett will have an opportunity to retake his wins’ lead as Supercross heads west for the next two rounds in Seattle and Glendale, Arizona.
Nate Thrasher earned his third second-place finish of the season with a gap of 7.6 seconds to Lawrence. He won the overall in Arlington earlier this season, but a 15th-place finish in the opening round in Houston and 10th in Daytona hurts his championship chances.
Haiden Deegan scored his second podium and fourth top-five in six rounds of his young career. On his way to that finish, he rode aggressively against his teammate Jordon Smith in the heat race. Fans are getting a glimpse of what his on-track personality might be.
Jeremy Martin continues to be the model of consistency. He has not finished worse than sixth or better than fourth in six rounds now and that has allowed him to close to within two points of third in the 250 East championship standings.
Max Anstie entered the race weekend second in the points, but a hard crash in heavy traffic early in the main forced him to retire after two laps. Earning only one point for the round, he plummeted to fifth in the standings.
The news was worse for Smith, who was dropped out of the top nine in his heat after the altercation with Deegan and failed to advance through the LCQ. In the last chance race, he stalled his engine and had to mount a determined charge. He got only as high as seventh in that race after crashing while attempting to make a pass on fourth-place Jack Chambers.