1000Bulbs.com 500 Qualification Report

Dan Beaver
Rotoworld

Chase Elliott posted a lap of 192.707 mph and grabbed the pole for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. He’s going to be very familiar with the drivers lined up around him because Hendrick Motorsports swept the first two rows with Alex Bowman (192.552 mph) second, William Byron (192.258) third, and Jimmie Johnson (191.566) fourth.

Elliott’s time is 3.3 seconds faster than the first non-Hendrick driver Aric Almirola, who led a contingent of Fords.

What does that mean for the race?

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Very little.

Elliott has started on one of the first four rows in all but one race at Talladega; he finished outside the top 10 in four of the six previous races. The good news is that Elliott’s other two attempts on this track after starting up front ended in top-fives, including a fifth in his inaugural attempt in 2016 when he scored his first ‘Dega pole.

This spring Elliott earned his worst starting position at Talladega with an 11th-place qualification effort. He won that race to lock himself into the playoffs. He’d like to win again and automatically advance to the next round. While that is well within the realm of possibility, his speed in a single car run is not going to make much of a difference to his odds of doing so.

In the last two Talladega races, the pole sitter has finished 14th both times with Austin Dillon hitting that mark this spring and Kurt Busch last fall.

This is one of the courses on which qualification is almost meaningless.

In the last two Talladega races more drivers from outside the top 10 on the pace lap have finished 10th or better than those inside that mark. Led by Elliott’s advance from 11th to first this spring, he was joined by third-place finisher Ryan Preece (who started 30th), sixth-place Ku. Busch (14), seventh-place Ryan Newman (24th), eighth-place Brendan Gaughan (29th), and 10th-place Kyle Busch (22nd).

In this race last year Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished third from 12th, with fifth-place Joey Logano (20th), sixth-place AJ Allmendinger (23rd), eighth-place Erik Jones (15th), ninth-place Paul Menard (30th), and 10th-place Regan Smith (25th) joining the top-10 finishers.

Staring second, Bowman and Elliott pick up where they left off this spring as they crossed under the checkers 1-2 in the Geico 500.

For Bowman, this is the third consecutive race in which he started in the top 10.

Byron has some distance to make up in race trim. He started last year’s edition of this race eighth and fell to 20th at the checkers. That remains his best finish in three previous Talladega starts.

In the last three fall races, Johnson has moved up one row each year. He started eighth in 2017 en route to a 24th-place finish and rolled off sixth last year on his way to a seventh.

Almirola rounds out the top five. Like Bowman, this is his third straight top-10 start. He won last year after starting fourth and ninth this spring from the outside of the front row. Unlike Bowman, the driver of the No. 10 has a longer history of success in recent events with a six-race, top-10 streak. One of these came from as far back as 40th in the spring 2018 race; Almirola finished seventh that weekend.

Lined up behind Almirola are five other Fords with Brad Keselowski (6th), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (7th), Clint Bowyer (8th), Ryan Blaney (9th), and Joey Logano (10th) behind the wheel.

Erik Jones in 11th is the highest qualified Toyota driver.

Denny Hamlin is the playoff contender who will have to come from the deepest in the pack. His Toyota lost an engine as he was coming up to speed to take his timed lap. Standing in the garage, he pointed out how beneficial it was that his engine blew on Saturday and not on Sunday.

Kyle Larson qualified 12th, Kevin Harvick 15th, Martin Truex Jr. 18th, and Kyle Busch 26th to complete the playoff contenders.

Top-10 starters, last two races:

 

 

 

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