Almirola reflects on career, heritage as he makes 200th start
Aric Almirola insists he was absolutely prepared to climb into his No. 43 Smithfield Ford this Sunday for the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway completely focused on nothing other than scoring a victory and working toward earning a position in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But his public relations team brought up an important milestone that even he conceded was definitely worth noting, if not celebrating. This Sunday's race marks the 32-year old Almirola's 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start -- a significant measure of his staying power and a testament to how far he's come. Literally. He is the son of a Cuban immigrant on his dad's side of the family and the grandson of one of Florida's most celebrated and accomplished racers -- Sam Rodriguez -- on his mom's side. That has created a unique background dynamic that gives Almirola motivation and pride. And makes this weekend a heartfelt measure of success. "I think here I am and my dad came over from Cuba and 50 years later I'm making my 200th start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Petty," Almirola said. "It's so crazy to me, what living in this country affords you and allows you to be able to do, and my grandparents made that decision to come over here and take this chance." The sheer number of starts represents a mark of opportunity for Almirola. Making it into NASCAR's big league was always the harder path, the road less travelled. But he has made it. And that's only the beginning. "I don't think anybody dreams about running two hundred races, they dream about 'a' race," Almirola said. "So as a kid I dreamed about driving 'a' Cup car, running 'a' race. So, now the fact I've had the opportunity to do it two hundred times, when you realize that, and the marketing department brings to your attention that, 'Hey, Pocono is going to be your 200th start,' it really makes you kind of reflect on everything that's led up to this. "From being a kid racing go-karts all the way up to all the opportunities I've had. I realize by reflecting on all that stuff how fortunate and blessed I am." The thing is, Almirola could have just as easily been a star baseball player as a winning NASCAR driver. His native city of Tampa, Florida is a ballplayer's town. It produced Wade Boggs and Lou Piniella. Both Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield graduated from Almirola's Hillsborough High School. A calendar year in this part of the country has traditionally been delineated by baseball and football seasons. That just makes Almirola's success climbing the NASCAR ranks even more impressive. "I was in somewhat of a hot bed there for athletes," Almirola said smiling. "But I had a really strong passion for racing and I know that made me somewhat of an outsider at school growing up. When friends would ask, 'Hey what are you doing this weekend?' I'd say, I was going racing. "That kind of separated me from a lot of kids at school -- not in a bad way, I wasn't an outcast in a negative way, but I didn't have as close a relationship with kids at school because I didn't go parties at their house Friday night after football games. I was always working on my race cars or go-karts and racing on the weekends. "I wasn't looking for something to do on the weekend. I already had it." "I was always going to be a NASCAR guy. My grandfather raced sprint cars, so obviously the open wheel path was there, too. He'd race at East Bay every Saturday night and occasionally travel around the country going to races. But every Sunday it was normal, to get up, eat breakfast, hang around the house and then watch the Cup race. That was routine around my parents and my grandparents. We love NASCAR." The result for Almirola has been a starring role driving his sport's most iconic car -- the No. 43 -- for the sport's biggest legend, Petty. NASCAR's crown jewel, Daytona International Speedway, is also Almirola's "home track" and fittingly the venue he won his first Sprint Cup Series race in 2014, the Coke Zero 400 -- exactly 30 years after his boss Petty scored his historic 200th victory at the track. Consider this: Petty's win total would be equivalent to Almirola winning every start he's made. RELATED: Almirola's Darlington scheme honors Petty " Darlington schemes Though that remains the only Cup victory so far for Almirola, it was enough to propel him into the 2014 Chase and make him only more eager to return. His team's best finish this year is a 12th-place in the season-opening Daytona 500. He's had four top-15 showings -- three in the season's opening four races. He ranks 25th in points entering Pocono, hopeful to score a win in one of the remaining six races to set the 16-driver Chase field. "I think the reality is we have struggled this season and you can tell by watching the race and looking at our results," Almirola said. "This year has been a struggle and we can't really put our finger on what's wrong. People often ask what's wrong and it sounds like a smart-aleck answer, but if I knew, we'd fix it. "There are a couple places looking ahead that have been strong for us. Bristol comes to top of mind. We had a chance to win there a couple years ago battling with Carl Edwards. And then there's (regular season finale) Richmond. Last year we went there kinda do or die to make the Chase and finished fourth, but had a really strong car and a legitimate chance to win that race, too. Those are kind of top of mind to me where we might go in and get a win." Listening to Almirola reflect on his first 200 races, there is both a fond memory of what it took to get to this point and a distinct urgency in his voice to succeed in a way worthy of the hard work already put in. "Making my 200th start really forces me to reflect and when I do that and think about doing it for Richard Petty, who is very much an American icon. And I can't help but reflect on my family, which has done so much and sacrificed so much to get me where I'm at," Almirola said. "It really is amazing."
Menard charges atop opening Pocono practice
RELATED: Practice 1 results Paul Menard, potentially benefiting in his first race weekend with a new crew chief, topped the opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice Friday at Pocono Raceway. Menard, driving the Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet, clocked a best lap of 177.438 mph on the 2.5-mile track. It's the first weekend that Menard will be paired with crew chief Danny Stockman, who replaced Justin Alexander midweek. Denny Hamlin, a four-time Pocono winner, was second-fastest at 177.406 mph in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota. He was just ahead of defending Sprint Cup champ Kyle Busch, his teammate and last weekend's winner at Indianapolis, in the JGR No. 18 Toyota. Carl Edwards was fourth, keeping the line of Coach Joe Gibbs' entries going. He was fourth-best at 176.977 mph in the No. 19 Toyota. Kevin Harvick, still seeking to end an 0-for-31 drought at the Tricky Triangle with his first Pocono win, completed the top five at 176.620 mph in preparation for Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 (1:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Danica Patrick had the best 10 consecutive lap average (171.094) with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. behind her at 167.161 mph. The two were the only drivers to run 10 consecutive practice laps. Jeff Gordon turned the 22nd-fastest lap in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet, making his second straight appearance this weekend as an interim fill-in for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms. The session, originally scheduled for 85 minutes, was abbreviated to 63 minutes by water seeping up through seams in the 2.5-mile track's surface. Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the Sprint Cup Series is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. ET (NBCSN).
Ryan Newman plans to stick with RCR in 2017
LONG POND, Pa. -- Richard Childress Racing is expected to announce its 2017 Sprint Cup Series driver lineup in the coming weeks. Ryan Newman, in his third season as driver of the No. 31 RCR Chevrolet, isn't quite sure if he'll be a part of it. "We haven't talked about it in-depth yet, but we have talked about it," Newman, 13th in points, said Thursday at Kalahari Resort in Pocono Manor, Pennsylvania. "Hopefully, we'll get to sit down and talk about it soon." Newman has been arguably the organization's most successful driver during his tenure with the longtime Sprint Cup Series stable, coming within a straightaway of his first championship in 2014 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His numbers are down slightly from the past two seasons (just one top-five finish and seven finishes in the top 10), but his team, winless since he started driving the No. 31 Chevrolet, employs a consistent points-racing strategy that focuses on solid finishes rather than gambling for a victory. It worked wonders in '14, and with 12 finishes inside the top 15 this season and several more on the cusp, appears to be working in 2016. He sits 13th in the drivers points standings coming into Pocono. That doesn't mean, however, that NASCAR's "Rocket Man" isn't looking to launch himself into Victory Lane. "We're kind of getting back into that zone of having better finishes, better runs," Newman said. "We had a great run going last week (at Indianapolis) and crashed out with seven laps to go or whatever. So we feel like we've turned the momentum back in our favor but in the end we still have to deliver that victory." While Newman offers consistent, above-average production week in and week out, RCR may be faced with a tough decision as Childress' grandson, Ty Dillon, appears ready for a full-time Sprint Cup Series ride with no clear path to a spot for him. RELATED: Dillon talks 2017 plans, aims to make move up Still, the team owner told NASCAR.com earlier this year at Michigan International Speedway that he's planning on having the '16 XFINITY Series title hopeful in a Sprint Cup car full-time in 2017, while the exact organization and ride has yet to be finalized. Dillon has made five starts in the No. 95 Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet this season with a best finish of 20th (Texas). It's possible Dillon could slide over to that ride full-time, but it would leave veteran Michael McDowell without a seat. Dillon also ran three Sprint Cup Series races filling in for injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, getting his season-best finish of 15th at Phoenix. His relief duty in the Talladega race was not credited as an official start for Dillon since Stewart began the race behind the wheel. In a report by NBC Sports' Dustin Long earlier this month, Childress said, "Right now, it's just a lot of things are hanging. We're trying to put together what's going to be the best for everybody, not just for RCR, but for the drivers and the sponsors; we're trying to put together good programs." Right now, Newman doesn't appear to be getting his ducks in order just yet on the off chance he finds himself ousted from his ride in favor of the younger Dillon. "I plan on (coming back)," he said. "If they'll have me back, I'll be there."
Hard tires, reworked curbing present challenges at repaved Watkins Glen
RELATED: Before and after: Watkins Glen repave WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams wrapped up a two-day organizational test Wednesday at newly repaved Watkins Glen International, emerging with better ideas of the challenges they'll face when the series returns for the Aug. 4-7 race weekend. Among those challenges: reworked curbing, a fast circuit and a harder-compound tire that has made grip elusive. A total of 16 Sprint Cup teams -- one permitted from each organization -- tried to unlock the novelty of the $12 million resurfacing project, using a Goodyear tire that emphasizes durability at the expense of traction and wear. The rubber compound chosen is similar to that used July 9 at Kentucky Speedway, site of the Sprint Cup Series' most recent race on a repaved track. At Kentucky, the tire selection made for treacherous conditions in certain spots and made passing a delicate process. Though road courses don't lend themselves to the multi-groove racing seen at several well-aged oval tracks, Watkins Glen might still be a tricky place to maneuver when the series reconvenes for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. "The main thing we've learned so far is how hard the tire is," said Jamie McMurray, driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet. "It just seems to be no wear at all or lap time fall-off right now. This place didn't ever wear tires like Sonoma, but it seems like the tire is pretty hard." Sonoma, the other road course where the Sprint Cup Series races, is a much more intricate circuit with qualifying speeds roughly 30 mph slower than at Watkins Glen's open, free-wheeling layout. The Goodyear tire compound designated for both the Watkins Glen test and the race weekend is the same used for right-side tires in XFINITY Series competition at Iowa Speedway. Those Iowa right-sides will be used at all four corners for the Sprint Cup event at the 2.45-mile road course. Racing with a softer tire with more adhesion would potentially introduce the threat of excessive wear or blistering. It's a trade-off that Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Chase Elliott says he's willing to accept. "I think a lot of it is just having a fresh surface like this, you've got to have a tire that's pretty hard," said Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports' driver representative for the two-day test. "It's fast, and to ask a tire to hold up, you've got to bring something that's durable. It puts Goodyear in a tough spot, but I think they do a good job of trying to make the most of tough situations. There's been a lot of repaves here lately and I know they're working hard." David Groseclose, NASCAR's lead tire engineer, said Wednesday that the benefits of competing with a more rigid rubber compound outweighed the potential drawbacks. "As with all repaves -- same thing as Kentucky -- if you don't have a hard tire, you're going to blister them up," Groseclose said. "The way that works is if you've got a soft compound and you use it, the soft compounds tend to retain heat. It's just the nature of a soft compound. But on a repave, it's not going to wear so that heat's not going to be dissipated out of the tire. It has nowhere to go, so it stays in the tire, so that's why it blisters up. That's what we saw at Kentucky with the XFINITY and Truck Series." In addition to the surface itself, the track features new concrete for the rumble strips that border the circuit's turns and run-off areas. Some drivers found the differences barely noticeable, but Kurt Busch discovered a distinction the hard way with an early Tuesday spin as he bounded over the apex points in the backstretch chicane on one of his initial laps. "It's a lot different," said Tony Gibson, Busch's crew chief on the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet. "Kurt's like, 'I've got to learn all the curbs again.' The curbs over in the bus stop (chicane) are probably the biggest change. They're way more aggressive, and they've tightened up, so it's a lot tighter lane through there." Said Elliott, who will race here in Sprint Cup for the first time next weekend: "Some of the curbs may be a little different here or there, some a little rougher, a little smoother just depending on how they laid the asphalt in or however it worked. It's as close as you could make a track from an old surface to a repave, for sure." Five Sprint Cup teams participated in a Goodyear tire test May 10-11, and another 16 were present for this week's organizational test. For the remaining half of the field, the work toward finding the proper handle begins with opening practice on Friday, Aug. 5. "If you get your balance right, it'll be a no-drama," Gibson said. "Man, I told Kurt earlier, 'I'd hate to know I had to come here next Friday and hit the track for the first time and try to figure out these curbs and how much the race track has changed.' It'll be a handful in the short amount of time we get to practice. "It'll be interesting to see when we come back who has issues and who doesn't. But it's definitely going to be a plus to come and learn the race track, even if your car is not right or whatever, just getting here and getting behind the wheel and getting time on the race track is going to mean more." Pit notes: -- The full roster (in alphabetical order) of drivers and teams participating in the test: AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing), Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing), Clint Bowyer (HScott Motorsports), Chris Buescher (Front Row Motorsports), Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing), Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing), Austin Dillon ( Richard Childress Racing), Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske), Michael McDowell (Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing), Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing), Casey Mears (Germain Racing), Brian Scott ( Richard Petty Motorsports), Regan Smith (Tommy Baldwin Racing), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing), Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing). -- Casey Mears turned the fastest lap in the two-day test, which was divided into four sessions of four hours apiece. Mears pushed the Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet in the closing session to a best lap of 126.7 mph, a good bit slower than the track qualifying record of 129.491 mph set by Marcos Ambrose in August 2014. -- Brad Keselowski returned to the track Wednesday, one day after his severe, nearly head-on crash in Turn 1. He turned 74 laps over both sessions in a reserve Team Penske No. 2 Ford. -- Two teams -- Furniture Row Racing (driver Martin Truex Jr.) and Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing (driver Michael McDowell) -- were absent from testing's opening day, arriving in the Watkins Glen garage Wednesday in time for the two closing sessions. -- Wednesday's final session was extended 30 minutes to a 5:30 p.m. ET close because of a nearly hour-long clean-up for fluid on the track. After Chase Elliott's No. 24 Chevrolet suffered a broken axle, Clint Bowyer's No. 15 Chevy ran over the part, damaging the car's transmission. -- NASCAR XFINITY Series teams are scheduled to turn their first laps on the new Watkins Glen surface next Thursday. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will stage a support race the following day on the 2.45-mile course.
Ben-Hur's Jack Huston to drive pace car at The Glen
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (July 29, 2016) -- Jack Huston, star of the upcoming epic action adventure "BEN-HUR" from Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, will drive a 2016 Toyota Camry pace car to kick off the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It™ 355 at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, August 7. This will be Huston’s first time serving as an Official Pace Car drive at a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. He will also be recognized during pre-race ceremonies and will greet each NASCAR driver on stage during driver introductions. "I am excited to join NASCAR and get behind the wheel of today’s modern chariot," said Huston. "BEN-HUR" is the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), an officer in the Roman army. Stripped of his title, separated from his family and the woman he loves (Nazanin Boniadi), Judah is forced into slavery. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption. Based on Lew Wallace's timeless novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The film also stars Rodrigo Santoro, Nazanin Boniadi, Ayelet Zurer, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black D’Elia and Morgan Freeman. Timur Bekmambetov directed the film from a screenplay by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. Sean Daniel, Joni Levin, and Duncan Henderson served as producers, with Mark Burnett, Roma Downey, Keith Clarke, John Ridley, and Jason F. Brown serving as executive producers. "BEN-HUR" will be released in theaters on August 19, 2016. Huston previously starred for four seasons in HBO's hit series, Boardwalk Empire, as the sniper with the horribly disfigured face, 'Richard Harrow.' In 2013, Huston appeared in the critically acclaimed and award-winning film American Hustle, where he played mobster 'Pete Musane.' Additionally, he starred as 'Young Ira' in George Tillman Jr.'s film adaption of the Nicholas Sparks novel, The Longest Ride. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Watkins Glen International August 4-7 for the Cheez-It™ 355 race weekend, which also features the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Bully Hill Vineyards 100, and the NASCAR XFINITY Series Zippo 200 at The Glen. Tickets for all of the action are available by calling 1-866-461-RACE or by logging on to www.theglen.com . Fans can also watch the Cheez-It™ 355 live on USA at 2:30 p.m. ET or listen on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Located within five (5) hours (~300 miles) of 25 percent of the US population, Watkins Glen International is the premier road racing facility in North America, voted "Best NASCAR Track" by readers of USA Today. Keep up with The Glen on Facebook and Twitter. For tickets, call 866-461-RACE or visit www.theglen.com.
Stockman: A new place, same perspective, 'We don't like to suck'
Paul Menard's new crew chief, Danny Stockman, enlightens the media on his expectations as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief and where Richard Childress Racing can grow.
Menard's Darlington scheme gives honor to Al Unser Jr.
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes CONCORD, N.C. -- When Valvoline officials queried NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Paul Menard about his racing heroes, the first name on the list was Al Unser Jr. So Menard couldn't be more pleased that the Valvoline-themed throwback paint scheme he will run in this year's Bojangles' Southern 500 pays tribute to Unser Jr.'s lone NASCAR premier series start. Menard's Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet will carry the gray, orange and black color scheme used by Unser Jr. for the 1993 Daytona 500 with sponsor Valvoline featured on the hood when the series travels to Darlington Raceway for the annual Labor Day weekend classic. "Little Al's first NASCAR race was the Daytona 500 in 1993," Menard said earlier this week as preparations for the unveiling of the paint scheme got underway. "The partnership with Valvoline this year -- we got to talking earlier about who some of my racing heroes were and Al Jr. was right away, even without the Valvoline relationship. I've always been a huge fan of his. He was the guy in IndyCar that I always pulled for." Menard said he met the former open-wheel champion and two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 "when I was probably 12." "I remember; he probably doesn't," Menard continued. "But I pulled up (this morning) … and he was standing out in the parking lot. We were out there talking probably 10 or 15 minutes, just about the '93 (Daytona) 500, his autocross stuff that he's doing now, just talking about a little bit of racing." Unser Jr. was carrying the Valvoline colors in 1992 when he won his first Indy 500 title. Already a NASCAR sponsor, Valvoline wanted additional branding in '93 to promote its line of synthetic products, particularly for that year's Daytona 500. And the Daytona 500 just happened to be on Unser Jr.'s bucket list. "There were special races that I wanted to race in my career," Unser Jr. said. "The Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans. Those are the ones that I really wanted to run as a kid. "The Indy 500 is really where my heart is so we'd been doing that. But yeah, I wanted to run the Daytona 500 sometime during my career and it was just a blessing when Valvoline called me up and said, 'You know, we'd like to do this down in Daytona. Would you like to do it?' "I said, 'Of course I would. It's got to be with a great team.' "They said, 'We've contacted Hendrick Motorsports,' and I go, 'Awesome.' " At that time, the Hendrick organization consisted of three teams with drivers Ken Schrader, Ricky Rudd and rookie Jeff Gordon. The addition of Unser Jr. made it a four-team effort for the series' most notable race. A crash during the second of two twin qualifying races three days before the 500, however, cost Unser Jr. his primary entry and he wound up racing Schrader's backup Chevrolet Lumina. Instead of a gray, orange and black paint scheme, Unser Jr.'s race-day car was white with the Valvoline branding on the hood and across the rear quarter panels. A crash with less that 50 laps remaining took Unser Jr. out of contention, and he finished 36th. When told that Menard and Valvoline were bringing the original paint scheme back to the track for the Darlington throwback weekend, Unser said he was "just overwhelmed." "Mainly because this was just a one off," he said, "not a traditional kind of car with a lot of running behind it, a lot of heritage to it. So when they contacted me and said they were thinking about doing this throwback at Darlington … it was a true blessing." Menard praised Valvoline for not only bringing back the paint scheme, but for the company's long involvement in auto racing. "The brand is iconic in our sport," he said. "You pick out right away where that Valvoline car is on the race track, whether it's a stock car race or IndyCar races, NHRA. They're always around the sport. They have a huge racing legacy and I'm proud to be a part of it." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Dillon on '17: 'Plan on being in the Sprint Cup Series'
NEWTON, Iowa -- The team is a question mark, the number is uncertain and the logistics are still behind closed doors. But one thing's for certain: If he has his way, Ty Dillon will be in a Sprint Cup Series ride next season. "I fully plan on being in the Sprint Cup Series next year full time," Dillon said Friday at Iowa Speedway. "We've got a lot of options on the table. A lot of chips still left to fall before we kind of get to that point, but hopefully we'll have something really close to getting done in a month or so." Dillon has made eight Sprint Cup starts this season, driving both the No. 95 Circle Sport -- Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet and filling in for then-injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing ride. He etched a season-best Cup result of 15th at Phoenix in the No. 14 Chevrolet. He also served as a relief driver for Stewart at Talladega. RELATED: Dillon subs for Stewart With No. 31 driver Ryan Newman's RCR contract up after this season, it looks to be seen whether or not Dillon will take his place as the driver of the team’s third car or if organization will add a fourth car. The possibility of driving for a different team also looms. "Talks have progressed a lot further than they have in past years," Dillon said. "I had talks with other teams in the past couple years and had opportunities, but it's always been my dream to drive for RCR and be teammates with my brother. "But now it seems like the time's more and more important. We've got some things going with RCR but we're still slowly working on other options. So, I have plenty of options and we're going to make sure it's the right decision because I want to be able to compete and win races and I want to be part of a team I know I can do that with." MORE: 'Hero' moment for Dillon as Richard Childress makes NASCAR Hall
Truex tames Pocono for Coors Light Pole Award
RELATED: Qualifying results " See every car in the field LONG POND, Pa. – Martin Truex Jr. found a lot more than light at the end of the Tunnel on Friday afternoon at Pocono Raceway. Gaining time on the rest of the field through Turn 2—the Tunnel Turn—at the 2.5-mile triangular race track, Truex put his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota on the pole for Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 (on NBCSN at 1:30 p.m. ET; MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), knocking fellow Toyota Camry driver Carl Edwards out of the top starting spot. It's not that Truex and his team made a special point of emphasis on that particularly tricky corner. It just worked out that way, earning Truex his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Pocono and the 10th of his career. "For whatever reason, today—all day long—I felt comfortable there, more so than past times here," said Truex, who ran his fastest lap of the day (179.244 mph) in the third and final round of knockout qualifying for the 21st NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season. "The first race here (in June) we really struggled in the Tunnel Turn. "We kind of focused on it a little bit coming back, as far as just making sure it was closer to Turn 1 and Turn 3 and not something that would really handcuff us so bad. So maybe that had something to do with it—I'm not sure—but it just kind of worked out that way, for whatever reason. "Each round I felt a little bit more comfortable and was able to gain a little more time there, and the third round I was able to just kind of sail off in there and get a little bit lucky and hit it right. It's one of those corners that, if you take a risk going in, nine out of 10 times it doesn’t pay off coming out of the corner. This time it did, and we were able to take advantage of it." On the strength of his run through the Tunnel Turn, Truex covered the distance in 50.211 seconds, .104 seconds faster than Edwards (178.873 mph), who thought he had the pole won when he completed his lap in the final round. "As I crossed the line, I felt like, 'That’s it'," said Edwards, who was a close second to Kyle Busch in pole qualifying last week at Indianapolis. "But after seeing what (Truex) ran, I thought 'Well, maybe I could go back and change this or that,' but that was a really good lap for me. It just was. "You can always go back and pick your lap apart, but the last two weeks, Indy and here, I was pretty proud of my lap, and they just got us." Paul Menard (178.671 mph) qualified third, the fastest of three Richard Childress Racing drivers in the top 12, with Ryan Newman placing fifth and Austin Dillon placing 12th. That's the first time all three RCR Chevrolets have cracked the top 12 for the same race since August of 2014 at Michigan. Denny Hamlin claimed the fourth spot on the grid. Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano will start from positions six through 10, respectively. Subbing for ailing Dale Earnhardt Jr., six-time Pocono winner Jeff Gordon advanced to the second round but went no farther, qualifying 24th. Gordon made two runs in the first round to ensure he would make the second, and that eventually cost him. "The first time out, the car was pretty close, a little bit tight, but we should have been better that first time out, and then we wouldn't of had to gone out the second time," Gordon said. "But overall just too tight over the Tunnel (Turn). "The car is really good down in (Turn) 1. I picked up speed every time we went out. I think having to do that last run our third time on tires didn’t really give us a good chance to advance and get the lap that we wanted. It's still a work in progress." NASCAR competition officials delayed the start of qualifying by 20 minutes to allow teams extra time to make their way through the Laser Inspection Station (LIS). Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said that a glitch early Friday forced the wait time in the inspection process. "I'm not exactly sure of the exact technical thing that happened (with the LIS), but it got back online really quick," Miller said. "One thing I want to make clear is, the reason we're moving this back is because we had a little bit of ownership in it with our equipment. On a regular weekend, if everything … if we had our time block and our equipment worked fine and this was a team issue getting through templates and they didn't get out there, we would be inclined not to extend qualifying and if they miss qualifying it's on them." Despite the delay, all teams made it through inspection in time for the first 20-minute round of qualifying. The last of those was the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota team for driver Kyle Busch, who cut it close but made his first qualifying pass with roughly five minutes left in the opening session. No. 18 crew chief Adam Stevens told NBCSN that the car was initially out of tolerance with the rear-axle toe. Busch will start 16th after missing out on the 12-driver cut after qualifying's Round 2. His brother Kurt, who won the Sprint Cup tour's most recent race at Pocono, was 15th-fastest and will start alongside him in the eighth row. Contributing: Staff reports &amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;gt;
Stats advance: Analyzing the GEICO 500
A statistical look ahead to the final race of the Contender Round RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Below is a look at the 12 Chase Contenders – and beyond – at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama going into the GEICO 500 on October 19 (2 p.m. ET on ESPN). TALLADEGA-SPECIFIC STATISTICS 1 - Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 107.2 2014 Rundown · Five wins, 15 top fives, 20 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 11.5 · Led 20 races for 916 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Two top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 20.7 in 11 races · Average Running Position of 16.5, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 81.7, 11th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 193.205 mph, 10th-fastest 2 - Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 91.9 2014 Rundown · One win, eight top fives, 14 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 16.3 · Led 15 races for 453 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One win, four top fives, five top 10s · Average finish of 21.4 in 19 races · Average Running Position of 18.8, 19th-best · Driver Rating of 81.1, 13th-best · 88 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 6,094 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most · 1,782 Laps in the Top 15 (49.3%), sixth-most · 3,705 Quality Passes, sixth-most 3 - Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 110.2 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 11 top fives, 16 top 10s; eight poles · Average finish of 13.5 · Led 23 races for 1,815 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One win, six top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.9 in 27 races · Average Running Position of 18.9, 21st-best · Driver Rating of 78.0, 21st-best · 80 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · 6,423 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most · 1,594 Laps in the Top 15 (44.1%), 10th-most · 3,382 Quality Passes, ninth-most 4 - Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 85.9 2014 Rundown · Two top fives, 13 top 10s · Average finish of 13.5 · Led 6 races for 31 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Four top fives, nine top 10s · Average finish of 21.5 in 25 races · Average Running Position of 22.2, 34th-best · Driver Rating of 69.1, 30th-best 5 - Carl Edwards (No. 99 Subway Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 82.8 2014 Rundown · Two wins, seven top fives, 13 top 10s · Average finish of 14.3 · Led 11 races for 135 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Two top fives, five top 10s · Average finish of 21.1 in 20 races · Average Running Position of 23.7, 40th-best · Driver Rating of 67.3, 32nd-best · 77 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most 6 - Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 110.3 2014 Rundown · Four wins, 12 top fives, 20 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 9.8 · Led 22 races for 740 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Six wins, 15 top fives, 19 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 16.7 in 43 races · Average Running Position of 18.9, 20th-best · Driver Rating of 80.6, 15th-best · 1,644 Laps in the Top 15 (45.5%), ninth-most 7 - Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx One Rate/Deliverminator Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 90.9 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, 14 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 15.0 · Led 13 races for 217 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One win, four top fives, six top 10s · Average finish of 19.1 in 17 races · Average Running Position of 17.7, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 83.1, ninth-best · 70 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most · 5,604 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most · 1,543 Laps in the Top 15 (47.8%), 11th-most · 3,443 Quality Passes, eighth-most 8 - Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 88.6 2014 Rundown · One win, three top fives, 11 top 10s · Average finish of 16.5 · Led 11 races for 206 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Three top fives, five top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 21.5 in 21 races · Average Running Position of 21.7, 32nd-best · Driver Rating of 70.0, 29th-best · 5,877 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most · 3,170 Quality Passes, 12th-most 9 - Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 92.2 2014 Rundown · 11 top fives, 18 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.9 · Led 17 races for 467 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One win, five top fives, nine top 10s · Average finish of 18.3 in 29 races · Series-best Average Running Position of 14.0 · Driver Rating of 90.9, second-best · 6,129 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most · Series-high 2,361 Laps in the Top 15 (65.4%) · 4,531 Quality Passes, third-most 10 - Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Wicked Apple Ale Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 103.9 2014 Rundown · Five wins, 13 top fives, 16 top 10s; five poles · Average finish of 13.3 · Led 25 races for 1,506 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Two wins, three top fives, six top 10s · Average finish of 16.4 in 11 races · Average Running Position of 20.1, 24th-best · Driver Rating of 79.7, 17th-best 11 - Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 98.6 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 10 top fives, 18 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 14.4 · Led 15 races for 1,035 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Two wins, six top fives, 10 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 17.2 in 25 races · Average Running Position of 16.6, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 85.9, seventh-best · 1,881 Laps in the Top 15 (52.1%), fifth-most · 3,768 Quality Passes, fifth-most 12 - Dale Earnhardt Jr . (No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 96.6 2014 Rundown · Three wins, 11 top fives, 17 top 10s · Average finish of 12.2 · Led 14 races for 269 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Five wins, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s · Average finish of 15.0 in 29 races · Average Running Position of 14.8, third-best · Driver Rating of 90.3, third-best · 78 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · 6,487 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 193.225 mph, ninth-fastest · 2,155 Laps in the Top 15 (59.7%), third-most · 4,160 Quality Passes, fourth-most 13 - AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 70.8 2014 Rundown · One win, two top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 20.1 · Led 5 races for 68 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One top five, one top 10 · Average finish of 23.4 in nine races · Average Running Position of 24.1, 44th-best · Driver Rating of 61.5, 42nd-best 14 - Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 79.0 2014 Rundown · Three top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 15.8 · Led 6 races for 109 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Three top fives, six top 10s · Average finish of 18.7 in 23 races · Average Running Position of 20.3, 25th-best · Driver Rating of 76.8, 22nd-best · 74 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most 15 - Kurt Busch (No. 41 HAAS Automation Chevrolet) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 85.7 2014 Rundown · One win, six top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 19.8 · Led 12 races for 183 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · Six top fives, 13 top 10s · Average finish of 17.3 in 27 races · Average Running Position of 14.9, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 87.1, fifth-best · 7,181 Green Flag Passes, second-most · 2,262 Laps in the Top 15 (62.6%), second-most · Series-high 4,905 Quality Passes 16 - Aric Almirola (No. 43 Smithfield Ford) · Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 72.9 2014 Rundown · One win, two top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 21.0 · Led 5 races for 23 laps Talladega Superspeedway Outlook: · One top 10 · Average finish of 19.1 in nine races · Average Running Position of 18.6, 17th-best · Driver Rating of 81.7, 12th-best The 12 Contenders at Talladega Superspeedway Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Joey Logano 11 0 0 2 4 4 20.7 81.7 2 Kyle Busch 19 0 1 4 5 5 21.4 81.1 3 Kevin Harvick 27 1 1 6 11 2 15.9 78.0 4 Ryan Newman 25 0 0 4 9 8 21.5 69.1 5 Carl Edwards 20 0 0 2 5 6 21.1 67.3 6 Jeff Gordon 43 3 6 15 19 9 16.7 80.6 7 Denny Hamlin 17 0 1 4 6 3 19.1 83.1 8 Kasey Kahne 21 1 0 3 5 3 21.5 70.0 9 Matt Kenseth 29 0 1 5 9 4 18.3 90.9 10 Brad Keselowski 11 0 2 3 6 1 16.4 79.7 11 Jimmie Johnson 25 1 2 6 10 8 17.2 85.9 12 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 29 0 5 10 14 5 15.0 90.3 * – Based on last 19 races at Talladega Superspeedway (2005 – 2014). Talladega Superspeedway: History · Construction began on what was then known as the Alabama International Motor Speedway on May 23, 1968. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held on Sept. 14, 1969 – won by Richard Brickhouse . · The name changed to Talladega Superspeedway in 1989. · Fourth repaving completed on Sept. 19, 2006. Notebook · There have been 90 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega Superspeedway , one NSCS event in 1969 and two races per year since 1970. · Talladega Superspeedway is tied with Michigan International Speedway for holding the ninth most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points paying races (90). · 438 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega; 299 in more than one. · Dave Marcis leads the series in starts at Talladega with 61. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 43 starts; followed by Joe Nemechek with 38. · Bobby Isaac won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Talladega in 1969 with a speed of 199.466 mph. Isaac won the first three poles at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. · 37 drivers have Coors Light poles at Talladega, led by Bill Elliott with eight. Joe Nemechek leads all active drivers with four; followed by Jeff Gordon with three. · 10 drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Talladega. Bill Elliott holds the record for most consecutive poles at Talladega with six (1985 - 1987). · Youngest Talladega pole winner: Brian Scott (05/04/2014 – 26 years, 3 months, 22 days). · Oldest Talladega pole winner: Mark Martin (10/23/2011 – 52 years, 9 months, 14 days). · 44 different drivers have won at Talladega Superspeedway , led by Dale Earnhardt with 10. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six. · Richard Childress Racing has the most wins at Talladega in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 12; followed by Hendrick Motorsports with 11. · Nine different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Talladega; led by Chevrolet with 39 victories; followed by Ford with 20 and Toyota with three. · 13 of the 90 (14.4%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from the Coors Light pole. Jeff Gordon (2007) is the only active driver to be able to accomplish the feat. · The outside front row (second-place) starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (20) than any other starting position at Talladega. · 33 of the 90 (36.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from the front row: 13 from the pole and 20 from second-place. · 62 of the 90 (68.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Talladega have been won from a top-10 starting position. · 8 of the 90 (8.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from a starting position outside the top 20. · The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Talladega was 36th, by Jeff Gordon in the spring of 2000. · Youngest Talladega winner: Bobby Hillin Jr. (07/27/1986 – 22 years, 1 month, 22 days). · Oldest Talladega winner: Harry Gant (05/06/1991 – 51 years, 3 months, 26 days). · Buddy Baker and Tony Stewart are tied for the series’ most runner-up finishes at Talladega with six each. · NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-five finishes at Talladega with 23. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 15. · Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-10 finishes at Talladega with 27. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19. · Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Talladega with a 10.520. · Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Talladega with a 15.000. · There have been seven NSCS races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Talladega Superspeedway : spring of 2005 (188/194), fall of 2005 (188/190), spring of 2007 (188/192), fall of 2008 (188/190) spring of 2010 (188/200), fall of 2012 (188/189) and spring of 2013 (188/192). · Only two of the 90 races at Talladega Superspeedway have been shortened due to weather conditions: spring of 1987 and fall of 1996. · Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway five times; most recently fall of 2013. · Jamie McMurray (10/06/2002) made his series debut at Talladega Superspeedway . · Brian Scott (05/04/2014), David Gilliland (10/08/2006) and Travis Kvapil (10/05/2008) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Talladega. · 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski (04/26/2009) and Brian Vickers (10/08/2006) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Talladega. · Nine drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have posted consecutive wins at Talladega; Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the series in consecutive wins at Talladega after posting four straight from the fall of 2001 – 2003. · Brad Keselowski is the only active series driver to win at Talladega in his first appearance. · Matt Kenseth competed at Talladega Superspeedway 25 times before winning the fall of 2012; the longest span of any the 12 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners. · Matt Kenseth (25), Tony Stewart (19), Kevin Harvick (18), and David Ragan (12) all made 10 or more attempts before their first win at Talladega. · Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Talladega without visiting Victory Lane at 38; followed by Kurt Busch with 27. · Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway was the (04/17/2011) race won by Jimmie Johnson with a MOV of 0.002 second – the MOV is tied with the 2003 Darlington race as the closest finishes in the NSCS using electronic scoring. · Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Talladega with 844 laps led in 43 starts. · Three female drivers have competed at Talladega in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie, Patty Moise and Danica Patrick. Driver Starting Position Finishing Position Date Danica Patrick 7 22 5/4/2014 Danica Patrick 23 33 10/20/2013 Danica Patrick 23 33 5/5/2013 Patty Moise 36 33 7/30/1989 Janet Guthrie 12 29 8/6/1978 Janet Guthrie 9 34 8/7/1977 Janet Guthrie 13 32 5/1/1977 NASCAR in Alabama · There have been 109 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among seven different tracks in Alabama. Track Name City NSCS Talladega Superspeedway Talladega 90 Birmingham International Raceway Birmingham 8 Montgomery Motor Speedway Montgomery 6 Lakeview Speedway Mobile 2 Chisholm Speedway Montgomery 1 Dixie Speedway Birmingham 1 Huntsville Speedway Huntsville 1 · 70 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Alabama. · Nine drivers from Alabama have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series; five have won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Driver NSCS NNS NCWTS Bobby Allison 84 2 0 Davey Allison 19 0 0 Neil Bonnett 18 1 0 Donnie Allison 10 0 0 Red Byron 2 0 0 Steve Grissom 0 11 0 Rick Crawford 0 0 5 Darrell Wallace Jr 0 0 3 Cale Gale 0 0 1 MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceVie FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation