UPDATED: Vickers wins ‘Dega pole; 7 Chasers to start at rear, including Keselowski, Kenseth; Nemechek DQ’d

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UPDATE 2: More than two hours after qualifying was complete Saturday for Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR officials announced two additional changes to Saturday’s outcome.

First, Brad Keselowski will go to the back of the pack for Sunday’s race due to changing an alternator. Then, Matt Kenseth was also tagged for a violation and will also start at the rear of the field Sunday due to an engine change.

NASCAR has not announced where Keselowski and Kenseth will start, most likely pending any other drivers going to the back of the pack prior to Sunday’s race. That’s why they’re still listed in their original qualifying positions in the grid below.

Here’s the tweet from Bob Pockrass of SportingNews.com, announcing the changes. That means seven Chase drivers — more than half of the field — will start at the back of the 43-car pack for Sunday’s race.

UPDATE 1: What was already a confusing afternoon became even more obtuse after Saturday’s qualifying session for Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Reed Sorenson had been told he did not qualify and would not race Sunday. Others who failed to qualify were Rickey Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier.

About an hour after qualifying, however, Sorenson found out that he will indeed race Sunday and that Joe Nemechek, who had originally qualified 24th, had his qualifying time and speed disallowed by NASCAR officials.

According to a tweet by USA Today’s Jeff Gluck, Nemechek was DQ’d “due to some oil tank thing.”

NASCAR subsequently announced early Saturday evening that the oil tank encasement was not properly sealed, prompting Nemechek’s disqualification.

It was the second attempt to qualify for a Sprint Cup race by RAB Racing. The previous attempt for this year’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway fell short of making the field.


ORIGINAL STORY:

Confusion. Conflict. And inexplicable strategy.

And that was just qualifying Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

We can only imagine what the actual race will bring.

What was supposed to be a simplified qualifying format wound up having almost everyone scratching their heads on what to do – and what ultimately happened.

“What a weird qualifying session, there’s no way around it, confusion on multiple levels,” said six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, who ultimately wound up qualifying on the outside of the front row.

In the end, non-Chase driver Brian Vickers emerged from the three qualifying rounds to take the pole for Sunday’s race with a speed of 196.129 mph.

“It’s crazy,” Vickers told ESPN. “Coming with three to go, I thought we had no shot. They all checked up and gave me a chance to get a run.

“We found some speed and this Aaron’s Dream Machine was quick.”

Johnson (195.732 mph), who is in a must-win situation to make it into the Elimination Round, will start on the outside of the front row, followed by A.J. Allmendinger (195.496) and Ryan Blaney (194.015).

“I thought we were completely out of the running and then we were able to suck back around and catch back up to get second,” Johnson said. “I thought we were going to be 12th the way it all worked out. So, I don’t know what happened exactly, but it worked out well and we got ourselves a second-place starting position.”

Also in a must-win situation is Brad Keselowski, who qualified fifth (194.007), followed by Michael McDowell (193.693), Travis Kvapil (193.603) and Kasey Kahne (193.498).

Making what he has said will be the final race of his lengthy Sprint Cup career, Terry Labonte will start ninth (193.431), alongside Michael Annett (193.162).

Rounding out the top 12 starting spots were Ryan Newman (191.302) and Martin Truex Jr. (190.981).

Drivers were so confused by what they could and couldn’t do, that several big names ultimately wound up being scored way back in the pack.

In fact, five of the last seven drivers on the qualifying grid are Chase competitors and made the field on owner’s points, while a sixth (Tony Stewart) made it on a past champion’s provisional. In a surprising turn of events, four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon will start last in the 43-car field.

With the controversial new format of Round 1A and 1B, three of the 46 drivers that entered ultimately failed to qualify.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the biggest surprise that failed to make Sunday’s race, followed by Justin Allgaier and Reed Sorenson. (Sorenson would subsequently be reinstated into the race when Joe Nemechek’s qualifying time and speed were disallowed due to some type of oil tank issue with his race car, according to USA Today’s Jeff Gluck.)

(REVISED) STARTING LINEUP FOR SUNDAY’S GEICO 500 AT TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY

Row
1 Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson
2 AJ Allmendinger, Ryan Blaney
3 Brad Keselowski, Michael McDowell
4 Travis Kvapil, Kasey Kahne
5 Terry Labonte, Michael Annett

6 Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr.
7 Matt Kenseth, Alex Bowman
8 Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne
9 Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch
10 Casey Mears, Paul Menard

11 David Gilliland, Cole Whitt
12 Mike Wallace, Greg Biffle
13 David Ragan, Marcos Ambrose
14 Danica Patrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
15 Landon Cassill, Austin Dillon

16 Jamie McMurray, JJ Yeley
17 Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip
18 Josh Wise, Reed Sorenson
19 Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin
20 Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano

21 Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson
22 Jeff Gordon

DNQ: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier, Joe Nemechek

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”