It seems at times there is nothing more NASCAR fans like to do but to look for the potential negatives of each track and coming into this race was no different. Earlier in the season at the other restrictor plate race at Daytona the racing was not exactly what the fans had been use too at these type of tracks. So it was with a sense of trepidation that after a terrific return to form last week at Richmond NASCAR would visit the might of the superspeedway that is Talladega. Would we see strung out racing, tandem drafting or big pack racing?
The more immediate talking point through was the weather and what effect it would have on the race. The first casualty of the rain was Saturdays qualifying session that was rained out. Where as previously the grid would be set from the drivers Championship standings, new rules brought in this season meant that the times would now be taken from the opening practice session. Teams were well aware of this possibility so the practice session saw drivers go all out to set the fastest time. After the session was over it would be Carl Edwards that would start on pole with a speed of 199.675 mph. However at these types of tracks qualifying order can mean very little as restrictor plate racing is the great equaliser, where smaller teams stand just as much chance as the bigger ones, throw a potential rain shortened race into the mix and there’s all the ingredients for a great race.
The green flag sees Edwards on the inside, Martin Truex Jr on the outside and as they fly down the back straightaway a third line develops in the middle with Matt Kenseth at its head, but as they complete the first lap it is the 56 of Truex Jr is shown as the leader. However the bottom line, lead by Edwards, doesn’t seem to be as fast as the other two and Edwards starts to fall back and a couple of laps later he’s dropped back to 12th. Meanwhile at the back of the pack is Denny Hamlin who’s running his first race since sustaining a back injury and is staying out of trouble; he even has an escort provided by Tony Stewart.
The high line is definitely the line to be in as Truex Jr continues to lead with Matt Kenseth leading the middle line in second place, and the lower line is still struggling to get going as the car at head of that one is back in 14th place. But the pack are all staying together and the top twenty cars are all within a second of each other. But such is plate racing the lines and speed seem to suddenly change and a lap later Kenseth is now on the bottom and flying, so much so that he is able to take the lead. While Truex Jr’s line seems to falter slightly as he falls to 9th and Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne take second and third right behind the 20 car. A perfect early example of what happens if you don’t move to the correct line when it gets moving is Edwards who missed out on getting back into the high line and as a result of running on his own has fallen all the way back to 29th.
By lap nine a single line has formed on the bottom line with the top 8 now running bumper to bumper, still being led by Kenseth. Dale Earnhardt Jr tries to get the high line working after missing out on getting in on the leading line and being back in 20th. But the early laps are filled with cars dropping back, moving forward and trying out different lines as the drivers try to get a feel for how their car handles on the different lines and also how long it will take them to get back to the front so they can try to work out when they need to make their move. Although Jr’s day quickly gets worse after coming into contact with Landon Cassill causing damage to his left rear, he has to come to pit row and goes a lap down.