There are many unknowns about Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Talladega, but one thing appears clear – manufacturer loyalty will supersede duty to drivers’ individual teams.
Cup teams have been faced with new aero rules, including the replacement of restrictor-plates with tapered spacers, and the changes have proved challenging for both the paddock and NASCAR itself this weekend.
The 2019 rules, which were not used at the season-opening Daytona 500, are a major adjustment for teams that have had many years to master the previous restrictor plate method of controlling speeds at the series’ two fastest speedways – Daytona and Talladega.
Changes had to be made immediate after first practice at Talladega on Friday, as the high speeds initially being attained alarmed teams.
While many drivers remain unsure how the aero rules will play out in Sunday’s race, there seems little doubt Talladega will continue to pit the three manufacturers and their top teams against each other.
Toyota was first to use a ‘manufacturer-first’ attack plan to superspeedway races in the 2016 Daytona 500, which helped produce driver Denny Hamlin’s first 500 victory.
The idea is drivers should do what they can to win, but also recognise that they should also do what they can to ensure if they don’t win, another driver from their manufacturer does.
“It’s because of Toyota – they started it when we went to Daytona in the 500, and they kicked everyone’s butt because they were selfless and stayed together,” Ford driver Joey Logano said.
“We have taken that model and tried to make it better with working together and we have found success because of that.
“It is part of the game now. The cars are not what made it like that.
“Everyone used to help their team-mate here and there but manufacturers didn’t really work together and weren’t committed to each other.
“Once we saw how those four cars were able to stay committed to each other and beat everyone that day in Daytona, that forever changed the draft.
“That moment was a key moment in superspeedway history, in my opinion.”
Last autumn at Talladega, the four Stewart-Haas Racing Ford drivers qualified first through fourth and worked diligently to run that way throughout the course of 500 miles.
The strategy proved successful, with SHR’s Aric Almirola holding off team-mate Clint Bowyer to pick up the victory.
New rules or not, that same philosophy is likely to guide Sunday’s race.
Chevrolet drivers met on Saturday to discuss how they can best work together to produce a win or one their own.
“It’s just looking at how the other teams have been successful in the last couple of plate races – you look at those guys and they’re grouping up and they’re dictating the race,” said Chevy driver and pole winner Austin Dillon.
“We don’t want to be in that position where we’re having to fight from behind the whole time and we have good numbers at Chevy and we need to use them.
“It’s just looking at what the competition has done and trying to make it better.”
Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr, the 2017 Cup series champion said numbers dictated the original manufacturer strategy.
“There’s a lot less Toyotas than anything else. So it’s changed a lot for us, I would say more than anyone,” he said.
“Strength in numbers has been kind of against us.
“But in general, the manufacturers have really worked hard at getting their teams all together and, and try and do the best job they can and get their manufacturer in Victory Lane.”
Regardless of the impact of the new aero rules, don’t expect that overriding objective to change at Talladega this Sunday afternoon.
|1||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||49.734s||–|
|2||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||49.841s||0.107s|
|3||Clint Bowyer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||49.947s||0.213s|
|4||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||49.965s||0.231s|
|5||Daniel Hemric||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||50.022s||0.288s|
|6||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||50.037s||0.303s|
|7||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||50.080s||0.346s|
|8||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||50.112s||0.378s|
|9||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||50.164s||0.430s|
|10||Kyle Larson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||50.193s||0.459s|
|11||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||50.201s||0.467s|
|12||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||50.251s||0.517s|
|13||Ty Dillon||Germain Racing||Chevrolet||50.310s||–|
|14||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||50.316s||–|
|15||David Ragan||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||50.344s||–|
|16||Daniel Suarez||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||50.419s||–|
|17||Paul Menard||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||50.421s||–|
|18||Matt Tifft||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||50.447s||–|
|19||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||50.450s||–|
|20||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||50.482s||–|
|21||Jimmie Johnson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||50.519s||–|
|22||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||50.593s||–|
|23||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||50.596s||–|
|24||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||50.614s||–|
|25||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||50.699s||–|
|26||Matt DiBenedetto||Leavine Family Racing||Toyota||50.817s||–|
|27||Erik Jones||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||50.821s||–|
|28||Darrell Wallace Jr.||Richard Petty Motorsports||Chevrolet||50.870s||–|
|29||Tyler Reddick||Beard Motorsports||Chevrolet||51.170s||–|
|30||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||51.269s||–|
|31||Chris Buescher||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||51.374s||–|
|32||Landon Cassill||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||51.382s||–|
|33||Jeffrey Earnhardt||XCI Racing||Toyota||51.432s||–|
|34||Ross Chastain||Premium Motorsports||Chevrolet||51.800s||–|
|35||Parker Kligerman||Gaunt Brothers Racing||Toyota||52.081s||–|
|36||Corey LaJoie||Go FAS Racing||Ford||52.100s||–|
|37||Reed Sorenson||Premium Motorsports||Chevrolet||52.184s||–|
|38||J.J. Haley||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||52.197s||–|
|39||Stanton Barrett||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||52.984s||–|
|40||Cody Ware||Petty Ware Racing||Chevrolet||53.148s||–|