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NASCAR NOTEBOOK: Top-35 system to end, Busch brothers streaks in jeopardy

The SportsXchange

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- As was discussed during a Saturday morning meeting with drivers and crew chiefs at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR is expected to drop the rule that provides guaranteed starting positions in Sprint Cup races to the top 35 in owner points, starting next year.

Instead, the sanctioning body is expected to return to the sort of provisional system that characterized the qualifying format before the top-35 rule was introduced. Also under consideration is a return to a random drawing for qualifying order.

Currently, qualifying order is set by the top speeds registered in the first Cup practice session, with the slowest car going out first and the fastest qualifying last. Under this system, teams often manipulate or sandbag practice speeds to ensure a qualifying draw they consider advantageous.

NASCAR officials said an announcement should be forthcoming later this month, probably within the next seven to 10 days, but Jimmie Johnson provided insight into the types of changes that may be coming in a question-and-answer session with reporters during Saturday's time trials for Sunday's Good Sam Road Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Johnson said he liked the current system for determining qualifying order because it forced drivers to earn their spots in the draw. But he conceded that the change to a random drawing will allow teams to use their tire allotments more efficiently.

"It might alter five or six spots on the grid, but I don't think it will completely turn things upside-down," Johnson said. "I guess, in the end, in the spirit of making it exciting, maybe that's the angle NASCAR has, and we've got to keep an open mind to that as well."

Ryan Newman said a reversion to a provisional-based qualifying system probably won't be significant because it's concurrent with the development of NASCAR's new-generation race car. In large part, the top 35 rule was instituted to protect top stars and their sponsors, but with field sizes potentially smaller, that's less of an issue.

"My two cents is I don't think it's going to be a big issue at all to start the new season, because, with the new cars, I don't see us having an extra surplus of cars. ... I don't see 48 or 50 cars (trying to qualify) each and every week," Newman said. "I see 43, maybe 44 type deal, so I don't think it's going to be a deal breaker for many people at all."

---By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- As far as Dale Earnhardt Jr. is concerned, Sunday's Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway won't be a race for the faint of heart.

Seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, 39 points behind leader Brad Keselowski, Earnhardt has an aggressive mind-set toward Sunday's race, even though there are seven races left in the Chase.

"I feel pretty good, I guess because I have nothing to lose," Earnhardt told reporters Friday at Talladega. "And that fits right into how you race this racetrack. It's kind of a no-holds-barred, lay-it-out-there kind of thing.

"Anytime you're cautious, you tend to get yourself in trouble, and the guys that are a lot more aggressive seem to find themselves toward the front of the mess when it all goes down and end up being the ones that, for some reason, will finish. But we're just going to throw it all out there, man."

Accordingly, a conservative run, trying to maintain contact with the series leaders, isn't part of the No. 88 team's plan.

"We're in a position where it really doesn't matter," Earnhardt said. "We can't be conservative at all. We've really got to take a lot of risks. With just a few races left, and as good as everybody is running, like Brad and second-place Jimmie (Johnson) and the No. 11 (third-place Denny Hamlin), we really have to get pretty aggressive, and that should play right into this race track's hands.

"It's a place that really kind of asks for that, and you've got to really take some risks and be pretty daring out there to make some things happen."

NO FRIENDS FOR THE POINTS LEADER?

Even though recent rules changes have minimized tandem drafting, it's still important to have allies on the track in a restrictor-plate race.

Chase leader Keselowski knows he'll have one friend on Sunday -- and perhaps only one.

Keselowski and Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. are the only two Dodge drivers in the field. If Keselowski needs a push or room to change lanes during the race, Hornish will provide it.

"I'll be glad to have Sam's help, that's for sure, and I know that he's been a good teammate," Keselowski said. "I'm looking forward to working with him. I think we've worked pretty well together this year, whether it's Nationwide or Cup.

"But as far as the other drivers, I go into the race not expecting to have any help from anyone and playing it from there."

STREAKS ON THE LINE

The Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle, both have significant streaks in danger of ending this year.

From 2002 through 2011, Kurt won at least one race per year in the Sprint Cup Series. So far this year, in the No. 51 Chevrolet owned by James Finch, Busch has a best finish of third at Sonoma. He'll race for Finch Sunday at Talladega before starting his tenure at Furniture Row Racing Oct. 13 at Charlotte.

Kyle's eight-year winning streak in the Nationwide Series likewise is in jeopardy. Driving for his own team for the first time this year, and sharing Nationwide duties with Kurt, Kyle is winless in 17 starts. Kurt has the only Nationwide victory for Kyle Busch Motorsports, having triumphed at Richmond in April.

In four years of Nationwide competition for Joe Gibbs Racing from 2008 through 2011, Kyle accumulated 40 of his series-record 51 wins, with a high-water mark of 13 in 2010. The Nationwide Series has this week off but will run companion events with the final five Chase races, starting Oct. 12 at Charlotte.

In JGR's No. 18 Cup car, Kyle extended his Cup consecutive-season winning streak to eight with a victory at Richmond the day after Kurt won the Nationwide race there.
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