TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Steady rain Saturday washed out qualifying at Talladega Superspeedway, where the field was set by practice speeds.
It put Carl Edwards on the pole for Sunday’s race, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Marcos Ambrose.
They ran a spirited Friday first practice session because everyone had seen the weather radar and knew the laps might count if qualifying was cancelled.
“It was like a heat race out there,” said Edwards. “Everybody was trying to get their fastest lap, and we got ours with like a minute to go. It was pretty exciting.”
“We were all driving like idiots in that first practice knowing it was probably going to rain,” he said.
Joey Logano will start fourth, followed by Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth.
Denny Hamlin will be seventh in his first race since missing four with a compression fracture in a vertebra in his lower back. Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne round out the top 10 in Sunday’s starting lineup.
Hamlin is planning to start the race but get out of his car at some point and let Brian Vickers take over for him. The two practiced the driver exchange on Friday, with Hamlin getting out of the car through a roof hatch and Vickers coming in through a window.
They had the exchange down to just over a minute, which they determined would keep the car on the lead lap if the exchange was made under a caution.
“It took us right at one minute every time that we rehearsed it, so we’re going to be plenty fine there,” Hamlin said. “Everything is pretty seamless.”
Hamlin could get assistance during the race from good friend Michael Waltrip, who will be making just his second start of the season. It’s likely that Hamlin will drop to the back of the field at the start of the race to try avoid an early accident, but he could also risk falling out of the draft.
So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Waltrip, a fellow Toyota driver, partner with Hamlin to help him stay in the draft until he gets out of the car.
Waltrip seemed to foreshadow that Saturday when discussing his race plan.
“Quite honestly, for the first 100 miles or so, I won’t be aggressive at all because it’s just a matter of getting in the flow and getting back to what you know you know how to do so well,” Waltrip said.
Waltrip had an opportunity to win Talladega last October until leader Tony Stewart triggered a multi-car accident trying to hold off the field. It collected Waltrip, who turned 50 this week and only runs restrictor-plate races anymore.
His last win was at Talladega in 2003, but he led four laps in the season-opening Daytona 500 and finished 22nd.
Waltrip used Friday’s practice to shake off the cobwebs.
“When you take off from Daytona until May, there’s so many things you need to orientate yourself with — something as simple as just being able to see the water temperature and water pressure gauges in your peripheral without having to pay attention to them, understanding how the cars move when other cars come around you,” Waltrip said. “I have to do a whole lot of visualization, like after practice yesterday, this morning, before I race. I visualize what I saw in practice and what I think I’ll see during the race. And the other cats, it’s repetition; they were racing last weekend side-by-side, bumper-to-bumper all over each other, so theirs just comes natural.
“I have to really focus my mind on the task at hand in order to make sure I’m ready for it.”