24 drivers top 200 mph in Talladega practice after NASCAR attempts to slow speeds

Practice Action
Practice Action

Drivers are even less certain than usual about what to expect at Talladega Superspeedway given a new package that NASCAR is still adjusting on the fly.

To Clint Bowyer, that unpredictability at least makes it anything but boring.

"If you woke up every day of your life and knew what the future held, that would be a boring life," he said Friday. "That's what's cool about Talladega."

If that's the case, the Cup race could be especially cool Sunday. Drivers who turned practice laps Friday at Talladega began to get some inkling of what the race might bring minus the restrictor plates.

But NASCAR made tweaks after the opening practice session, adding a 1-inch wicker to the spoiler and allowing teams to switch between the two gears until qualifying. Speeds ratcheted up in afternoon practice, when six cars topped 204 mph.

"I think pretty much everyone coming here thought that there was a pretty large potential for an audible along the way," Brad Keselowski, who leads active drivers with five Talladega wins, said between sessions. "I'm not frustrated. I'm just focused."

Gone are the restrictor plates that had sapped horsepower to reduce speed since 1988, oft-maligned devices geared toward improving safety at the nation's fastest tracks. They've been replaced by tapered spacers.

Drafting for speed
Drafting for speed

So at Talladega and Daytona, in July, drivers will have 550 horsepower, about 140 more than with the restrictor plates. The changes didn't go into force until after February's Daytona 500.

NASCAR has increased the height of the rear spoiler and the rear height of cars hoping to cut speeds. More changes came after their first tryout on the 2.66-mile track, famed in no small part for chaos and big wrecks.

The changes have led to lots of questions and speculation about what the race will look like when money and series points are on the line.

Matt DiBenedetto, who led a race-high 49 laps at Daytona, had a wary initial assessment after the first practice: "It's weird and it's different."

"I think the runs are really big and I hope I'm wrong, but I think there's going to be the potential for more crashes because the runs are so big," DiBenedetto said. "When we led at Daytona, we were able to kind of manage both lanes and lead for a long time. I think it's going to be harder to do that now."

Jimmie Johnson said the closing rate "is the highest I've ever experienced."

Talk that the new package could lead to a return to more tandem drafting seemed to have subsided after practice, when pairing up proved difficult.

"I don't think that the tandem deal that we have all thought about it is going to be a reality, but I do think that the cars are still pretty fast and handling will still come into play," David Ragan said.

Of course, it's Talladega. Keselowski isn't taking it for granted that Friday's talk necessarily translates to Sunday's race.

"Whatever the sentiment is [Friday], the race will be the opposite," he said. "Because all the drivers are listening, and if you say they're going to wreck everybody, then they'll all get scared and they won't run tight and wreck each other. If you say, 'Oh, it'll be just fine,' then they'll all run over each other. It tends to go inverse of whatever the sentiment is in the week." AP Story

“You try to prepare yourself and look back at notes and stuff from recent events and honestly, I think a lot of the prep work that you typically do maybe just gets shifted to Friday night and Saturday night. You don’t know," said Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Team Penske Ford who is seeking back-to-back GEICO 500 wins at Talladega. “You don’t want to overload yourself with races and not know what is going on. For me, at least, it’s probably better to figure out what we have here first and then kind of study and add to the strategy of what we need from there."

With a new rules package making its debut at NASCAR’s biggest track, Clint Bowyer echoed the feeling that teams have more questions than answers heading into the GEICO 500.

“Good old fashioned luck goes a long way here sometimes. The big one happens. Something chaotic happens," Clint Bowyer (No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing), a two-time Talladega Superspeedway winner, said. “These stages have really compiled racing within the race. It isn’t just all about the end. As the stages come to an end, the first and second stages you really see the intensity pick up and it kind of gives you a glimpse of what you will see at the end and some carnage can happen at those. You have to be careful and cautious and lucky enough to get there to get your points. But the place to be at Talladega is no different than anywhere, it is out front. If you are ahead of all of that, it doesn’t matter what happens in the mirror."

Kurt Busch (No. 1 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing) led opening practice for the GEICO 500 with a lap of 47.249 (202.671 MPH). For final practice, Ryan Newman (No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing) was fastest with a lap of 46.905 (204.157 mph). Qualifying for Sunday’s GEICO 500 is set for 3:40 p.m. CDT on Saturday afternoon.

After some concerns with engine durability, the RPMs and speeds creeping up during first practice, NASCAR added a 1 inch wicker to the 9-inch spoiler and are allowing the teams to switch between the two gear options (.345 and .350) until qualifying. Once they qualify, they must keep that gear in the car through the race.

Final Practice Results

Pos Car Driver Team Time Speed Behind Gap
1 6 Ryan Newman Acorns Ford 46.905 204.157 —.— —.—
2 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr Fifth Third Bank Ford 46.912 204.127 -0.007 -0.007
3 19 Martin Truex Jr Bass Pro Shops Toyota 46.915 204.114 -0.010 -0.003
4 36 Matt Tifft # Surface Suncreen/Tunity Ford 46.920 204.092 -0.015 -0.005
5 18 Kyle Busch M&M's Chocolate Bar Toyota 46.923 204.079 -0.018 -0.003
6 20 Erik Jones STANLEY Toyota 46.927 204.062 -0.022 -0.004
7 10 Aric Almirola Smithfield Ford 47.263 202.611 -0.358 -0.336
8 21 Paul Menard Quick Land Tire & Auto Center Ford 47.329 202.328 -0.424 -0.066
9 95 Matt DiBenedetto Procore Toyota 47.349 202.243 -0.444 -0.020
10 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Express Toyota 47.418 201.949 -0.513 -0.069
11 88 Alex Bowman Nationwide Chevrolet 47.459 201.774 -0.554 -0.041
12 24 William Byron Hertz Chevrolet 47.461 201.766 -0.556 -0.002
13 9 Chase Elliott Mountain Dew/Little Caesar's Chevrolet 47.463 201.757 -0.558 -0.002
14 8 Daniel Hemric # Caterpillar Chevrolet 47.464 201.753 -0.559 -0.001
15 1 Kurt Busch Monster Energy Chevrolet 47.468 201.736 -0.563 -0.004
16 42 Kyle Larson Clover Chevrolet 47.469 201.732 -0.564 -0.001
17 48 Jimmie Johnson Ally Chevrolet 47.475 201.706 -0.570 -0.006
18 3 Austin Dillon Dow Chevrolet 47.487 201.655 -0.582 -0.012
19 13 Ty Dillon GEICO Chevrolet 47.503 201.587 -0.598 -0.016
20 41 Daniel Suarez Coca-Cola Orange Vanilla Ford 47.675 200.860 -0.770 -0.172
21 4 Kevin Harvick Busch Beer Flannel Ford 47.725 200.650 -0.820 -0.050
22 43 Bubba Wallace World Wide Technology Chevrolet 47.746 200.561 -0.841 -0.021
23 *62 B. Gaughan(i) / T. BrdOilDstrbtng/SthPntHtl&Casino Chevrolet 47.763 200.490 -0.858 -0.017
24 14 Clint Bowyer Toco Warranty Ford 47.777 200.431 -0.872 -0.014
25 22 Joey Logano MoneyLion Ford 48.014 199.442 -1.109 -0.237
26 47 Ryan Preece # Kroger Chevrolet 48.417 197.782 -1.512 -0.403
27 37 Chris Buescher Tide Pods Chevrolet 48.438 197.696 -1.533 -0.021
28 15 Ross Chastain(i) Chevrolet 48.536 197.297 -1.631 -0.098
29 00 Landon Cassill(i) Home Town Lenders Chevrolet 48.569 197.163 -1.664 -0.033
30 34 Michael McDowell Love's Travel Stops Ford 48.579 197.122 -1.674 -0.010
31 *81 Jeffrey Earnhardt(i) Xtreme Concepts Toyota 48.811 196.185 -1.906 -0.232
32 12 Ryan Blaney Menards/Knauf Ford 48.984 195.492 -2.079 -0.173
33 2 Brad Keselowski Snap On Ford 49.033 195.297 -2.128 -0.049
34 *96 Parker Kligerman(i) TRD 40th Anniversary Toyota 49.149 194.836 -2.244 -0.116
35 52 Stanton Barrett HUSKI CHOCOLATE Chevrolet 49.385 193.905 -2.480 -0.236
36 38 David Ragan Shriners Hospital for Children Ford 50.335 190.245 -3.430 -0.950
37 77 Justin Haley(i) Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet 50.559 189.402 -3.654 -0.224
38 *27 Reed Sorenson Low-T Centers Chevrolet 50.580 189.324 -3.675 -0.021
39 51 Cody Ware(i) JACOB Companies Ford 52.736 181.584 -5.831 -2.156

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