New Talladega qualifying format earns mixed reactions from drivers

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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: