Driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford, Carl Edwards, won the Polk’s Meat Products Pole Award for the Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race this Sunday after qualifying was cancelled due to heavy rain. With a high percentage of rain in the forecast for the entire weekend, drivers knew that running a fast lap in Friday’s first practice could be crucial to their starting position on Sunday. According to NASCAR rules, if qualifying is rained out, then the starting line-up is set based on speeds from the first practice session.
As Carl Edward accepted his Polk Meat Products Pole Award on Saturday, he commented on the intensity of the first practice. He said, “And the thing is, first of all, it was actually pretty exciting for all the teams yesterday because we looked at this forecast and we were all concerned that there wasn’t gonna be single car qualifying. I don’t know if you guys noticed, but it was like a heat race out there. Everyone was doing everything they could to lag back and partner up and get the fastest lap times they could and it was pretty exciting. We got the fastest lap with about one minute to go and it was really exciting, so that was our whole mission yesterday and I’m pretty proud of the fact that we ended up with the fastest time.”
Driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, Martin Truex Jr., also acknowledged that the practice was more indicative of race conditions than qualifying would have been. He commented, “…the beginning of practice yesterday was kind of crazy. It was something that you never see and I think we ran the first three laps half throttle and everybody was trying to figure out a way to get to the back of the pack so they could get that run. And, we fortunately were able to be in that position.” Truex Jr. will be starting in 2nd position in the Aaron’s 499 on Sunday.
Truex Jr. and Edwards both acknowledge that the importance of a driver’s starting position at this track is a toss-up. Edwards said, “This race, this track, everything about it is it’s so chaotic and unpredictable that I think the stats really don’t mean much here. You could have all the stats in the world, but someone could win this race that’s not even on the radar up until that victory, so I’m definitely happy that we’ve got a fast car and that we’re starting up front, that’s good, but anything can happen. The last lap of this race could turn the field inside-out and anything could happen.” Truex Jr. added, “We are starting second and we could be 25th coming around to take the first lap. It’s just plate racing. The guys will be coming and going all day long. The field is like a big revolving door and you’ve just got to be in the right position at the right time.”
Many drivers are basing their Talladega pre-race strategies on their experience at the Daytona 500, the first restrictor plate race of the season. In response to the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts team strategy for Sunday, Truex Jr. replied, “I think based on what we learned at Daytona you want to be at the front. My plan coming in here was to be aggressive, to try to stay up front all day long—we did that in Daytona and it worked out for us until we had our engine problem late in the race. The chances here of getting in a wreck are great, so why not just go out and race and put on a show and try to run up front all day long? I think that’s our plan, our strategy and what we’re going to do.”
This weekend’s event at Talladega marks the first time the new Gen 6 car will be at the famed speedway. The new car coupled with heavy rains altering track conditions should lead to an eventful Aaron’s 499 on Sunday at Talladega Speedway.