TALLADEGA, Ala. – Ride or race was the question NASCAR’s title contenders are considering as they prepare for Talladega Superspeedway.
The fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup could be the one that shuffles the 12-driver championship field. The use of restrictor plates bunches the field, and the unpredictability of drafting and relying on partners usually creates a chaotic race that can end a driver’s title hopes.
So when qualifying ended Saturday, and Kasey Kahne sat on the pole for the first time at a plate race, drivers began discussing in earnest how they will attack the 500-mile event.
We just really need to race and race hard, he said. We’re a long ways back right now, and if we can’t make up points at a track like this, we probably aren’t going to make them up.
Kahne’s lap of 191.455 mph bettered Ryan Newman’s 191.145, putting a pair of Chevrolets on the front row for today’s race.
Asked what it meant for Kahne’s race, he didn’t offer many details.
It means I’m going to start first, that’s it, said Kahne, who is sixth in the standings and trails leader trails leader Brad Keselowski by 32 points. I’ll try to lead that first lap. If we’re up there, we’ll try to stay up there.
That’s the big debate among drivers who differ on strategy for Talladega. Some may ride around in the back of the field waiting to make a late charge in an effort to avoid potentially dicey situations, but some want to be aggressive and be out front as much as possible.
Two-time defending race winner Clint Bowyer, who is fourth in the standings, surprised himself with a third-place qualifying run Saturday.
Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart qualified fourth and was followed by Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon as Chase drivers took five of the top six starting sports.