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

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter