Hamlin Swipes Talladega Pole From Almirola

(TALLADEGA, AL – APR 22, 2023 – RIS) Denny Hamlin took the pole for the GEICO 500 from Aric Almirola by a margin of 0.032 second, the only car to clock under 53 seconds in the second round of time trials. Rookie and fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Ty Gibbs placed third on the grid for the race, followed by Chase Briscoe and Ryan Blaney. Kyle Larson drove the sole Chevrolet in the second round of trials and will start the race in ninth place, just a thousandth of a second ahead of tenth-place Chris Buescher’s Ford.

How does it feel to get your first superspeedway pole through on-track qualifying? You earned one during COVID through metrics. “This was the first one for sure,” said Hamlin. “I was well aware this was my first speedway pole. I think that last year was a great opportunity because I think all the Toyotas qualified really well on the speedways. Kind of nature of the bodies that we submitted to NASCAR so we knew we were going to be fast on these types of race tracks. The body that we submitted this year, I think we got more of a balance and we knew it was going to slow us up on these types of race tracks. But Toyota and those guys continue to make advancements and we get a little faster.”

How different is the Talladega race compared to Daytona? “It’s not much different. We build the fastest cars we can and I talked about it earlier that back in the day, it used to be was the car built for qualifying or built for the race? That’s not been the case for a very long time. Everyone is building the very fastest car they can and qualifying exactly what they’re racing. I think it’s a good sign of things to come.”

What is the state of NASCAR right now in your opinion? “Certainly I think that there’s a lot of negative talk in a short amount of time. Obviously, the penalties got the biggest talk of it. That was just unfortunate circumstances and NASCAR got caught in the middle of something that was right and then it looked wrong by the ruling so they tried to make it right with Kaulig at the end. It’s very tough from the competition standpoint. I think we can continue to make it better and as long as we’re open to new ideas, which it sounds like we are, we can make this better and we need to make it better.”

What needs to happen in tomorrow’s race for Monday to consist of positive conversations? “Just talk about the race. That’s it. They were talking about Martinsville on Monday, but not all in a positive way. I think a lot of it was that we saw a race there that was very challenging from a passing perspective. What we’re going to see here tomorrow is going to be a lot of what we saw at the Daytona 500 – two-by-two racing. That’s just the product of the car, but we’ve got some bigger fish to fry on competition than speedways. It will get it’s attention in due time I’m sure.”

What is the advantage of having the pole at Talladega? “Honestly, I don’t know that there is one. If I would have qualified 18th, I would have been just as optimistic. Qualifying on the pole means that my car is fast and my car will be fast leading. I haven’t been fast in Next Gen era while leading superspeedways so that gives me the confidence that I should be able to lead the pack quickly, which will make it harder to pass us.”

What do you believe is the most feasible to fix on short tracks? “I think I left that meeting very optimistic with what I heard. The changes in the car and Goodyear stepping up and saying that they had to be very conservative the first year Next Gen and we’ve been very common with our tires. We feel like we’re comfortable enough now to start mixing that up and really start getting more aggressive with our tire compounds. That’s all fantastic news for us and hopefully for competition here in the next few months.”

What was your reaction to being included in the 75 Best Drivers for NASCAR? “Well, I saw Jim France called and my first thought was, ‘Oh ****, here we go again.’ (laughter) PTSD for sure on that one. It was a good phone call and him just being very appreciative for what I do for the sport and for the industry. It was good to hear certainly and he said this was a very high honor and I acknowledged it and said, ‘I appreciate this accomplishment.’ It’s big obviously and hopefully there is one more big one that we can go.”

When NASCAR announced they were doing the 75 drivers list, did you allow yourself to think you would make the list? “Of course you think about it for sure. I thought I had a place in there for sure, but you just never know until you know.”

How does your strategy for this race change by starting from the pole? “I struggle because this type of racing does not fit my skill set at superspeedways. It’s two-by-two and I want to be the Dale Earnhardt who can go from 18th to first in three laps or whatever it is. With it being such a teammate type of race or manufacturer type race, I’ve always pushed to just let me do my own thing or be on my own, but it’s very hard in this climate and this type of racing for that to be successful. You have to have people behind you that you know are committed to going wherever you’re going. At times, if you get told that you have to run with this car or that car, you just put handcuffs on my skill set, but it’s a different type of racing and I have to convert my type of racing into working with teammates and that type of strategy because it’s been what’s most successful.”

Do you have to be less selfish to control a superspeedway race now compared to how you had to be in the past? “Being selfish was beneficial until Next Gen – for sure, absolutely. My independence and not wanting to work with teammates, not because I didn’t want to, but they made moves I didn’t necessarily agree with so I just would go rogue and go on my own. I just feel like this Next Gen air in two-by-two racing, you can’t pull out and pass like you used to, by yourself so you have to rely on teammates. We’ve converted our style and I’ve had to change my style.”

Have you successfully converted your style of racing on superspeedways? “I haven’t won in Next Gen. I’m working on it. I wish I could go back in time to when you would see three and four wide. All I needed was air disturbed, any kind of air disturbed, I could find any little pocket of air to make my car go. This, you really have to just continue to push whoever is in front and make sure someone’s in line behind you.”

How do you change your style as a driver? “You just have to start over. Really, I’m having to do it on road courses now. At 42, I just have to relearn and figure out the best way to do things. Just can’t stop learning, that’s the biggest key.”

How do you work with your Toyota teammates? “I think you just have to be able to commit to each other, for good or for bad, you’re either all going to be in the same wreck or you’re going to be battling six cars for the win. It will get thinned out through wrecks, we all know that, but for the most part I think you have to have the mindset of how we can work together. It is power in numbers, especially in Next Gen. Whatever line has the most cars, if one line has nine and one has 10, the line with 10 is going to be faster. You’re going to want to be in that line. In the old days, you could make seven cars beat 10 if you worked it right.”

How do you feel about Corey LaJoie’s argument that you should not be able to drive from the back to the front in these race cars? “If you have to be perfect, it means you have to start on the pole, have the best pit crew and you have to lead every lap. That’s perfect. We saw what we thought was the best car go to the back and never to be seen ever again. That’s not what we’re looking for. I disagree with that 100 percent. We want tire fall-off and we want it because, the reason is that you’re not letting the stars show their skill set. Any time you put a star at the back, it should be a show watching them go to the front. Now it’s just, ‘see ya,’ you screwed up and I’ll never see you again. That’s not what we want. We want people watching on TV who don’t know much about NASCAR watching and saying, ‘that guy is clearly better than the rest.’ Not that car has better track position than that one.”

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang (Qualified 2nd) – DID IT FEEL LIKE YOU WERE PUTTING TOGETHER A GREAT QUALIFYING RUN AS YOU COMPLETED THE LAP? “When you run at these speedways, you have no idea how the car is speed-wise. The lap is going to be what it is. You just need to do all the little things right as a driver, but a lot of it is about the preparation at the shop – the guys on the team and car. I felt like I did my part. I felt like I got a good launch off pit road and did all the things I needed to do. Gosh, we were really close. But, I’m proud of everybody on the race team – Drew [Blickensderfer] and everyone on our Smithfield Ford Mustang. The team has done a great job, and I’m looking forward to the race.”

HAVING NOW QUALIFIED, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TOMORROW – ESPECIALLY WITH A MUSTANG IN THE FIRST THREE ROWS? “Just to race up-front. To battle and race up-front all day, and keep ourselves in position all day. These races really turn into track position races. The race plays out how it’s going to play out, and it’s a long race. You can stress too much about how the cars line-up at the start, because there’s so much that goes into an entire race here. I think it’s a good sign that we have speed, which is nice. You need speed in order to make the moves you need to make. From a holistic point of view for the race, I don’t think it matters.”

CHASE BRISCOE, No. 14 Mahindra Tractors YOG Ford Mustang (Qualified 4th) – DID BEING THE FASTEST CAR IN ROUND 1 HELP INTO THE FINAL ROUND? “Yeah, the first round, I was kind of surprised that it was that good, because I was bouncing around and didn’t feel I held the greatest, straightest wheel. But yeah, it was really good. It’s kind of something that’s common for us – being really, really fast in the first round, but for whatever reason, we just don’t pick up as much in the second round. The second round we felt like we were going to be in really good shape when we went green, and on the back straightaway, I had a pretty big head-wind. I could tell by the flags that I was probably going to be in trouble. But, starting fourth is a great position. Obviously, we’d love to have the pole but truthfully, we’d probably rather start in the second row. I feel like you cna kind of determine your own destiny a little bit more. When you’re in the lead, the guys behind you are shoving you. If your car can’t handle it’s really hard to do anything. Being second row helps that. We have a lot of fast Fords around us, so just looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully our car can stay up-front.”

DOES HAVING OTHER FORDS TOWARD THE FRONT HELP OR CHANGE YOUR GAMEPLAN AT ALL? “It definitely helps. Any time you have – especially when you come to a Daytona or Talladega – just the strength in numbers that we have with Ford, it’s definitely big. I feel like we do a really good job here just controlling the race and using it together. So hopefully we can continue to do that tomorrow, and do what we’ve been able to do the last couple years when it comes to superspeedway racing.”

RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Wurth Ford Mustang (Qualified 5th) – WHAT ARE YOUR TAKEAWAYS FROM QUALIFYING? “Yeah, it’s nice to know we have decent speed – getting into the second round and starting in the top-five. You can’t control much in qualifying. It’s a testament to how these guys show up and the kind of speed they bring. But I think we have a good car for tomorrow – I hope. It’s nice to start toward the front, for sure.

DOES HAVING THREE MUSTANGS STARTING IN THE TOP-FIVE HELP AT ALL? “Yeah, I think we’ll be good. It’s nice to know that the Fords have speed. That’s where you have to start. I definitely think it’s a good sign for tomorrow. Hopefully we can work together and be running by the end of it.”

Qualifying Results: GEICO 500, Talladega Superspeedway
Round 1
Pos, Driver, Car, Time, Speed, -Fastest, -Next
 Chase Briscoe, No. 14 Mahindra Tractors YOG Ford, 53.280 sec, 179.730 mph, ---, ---
2) Ty Gibbs #, No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota, 53.292, 179.689, 0.012 sec, 0.012 sec
3) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Freight Direct Toyota, 53.308, 179.635, 0.028, 0.016
4) Aric Almirola, No. 10 Smithfield Ford, 53.309, 179.632, 0.029, 0.001
5) Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, 53.315, 179.612, 0.035, 0.006
6) Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Wurth Ford, 53.333, 179.551, 0.053, 0.018
7) Joey Logano, No. 22 Shell Penzoil/Autotrader Ford, 53.341, 179.524, 0.061, 0.008
8) Christopher Bell, No. 20 Rheem Toyota, 53.388, 179.366, 0.108, 0.047
9) Chris Buescher, No. 17 Fastenal Ford, 53.417, 179.269, 0.137, 0.029
10) Kyle Larson, No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, 53.440, 179.192, 0.160, 0.023
11) Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford, 53.455, 179.141, 0.175, 0.015
12) Bubba Wallace, No. 23 Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota, 53.470, 179.091, 0.190, 0.015
13) Tyler Reddick, No. 45 MoneyLion Toyota, 53.496, 179.004, 0.216, 0.026
14) Austin Dillon, No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, 53.497, 179.001, 0.217, 0.001
15) Austin Cindric, No. 2 Menards/Duracell Ford, 53.499, 178.994, 0.219, 0.002
16) Ryan Preece, No. 41 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford, 53.509, 178.961, 0.229, 0.010
17) Kyle Busch, No. 8 McLaren Custom Grills Chevrolet, 53.548, 178.830, 0.268, 0.039
18) William Byron, No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet, 53.559, 178.793, 0.279, 0.011
19) AJ Allmendinger, No. 16 Farmsmart Chevrolet, 53.568, 178.763, 0.288, 0.009
20) Brad Keselowski, No. 6 Castrol Edge Ford, 53.611, 178.620, 0.331, 0.043
21) Michael McDowell, No. 34 Love's Travel Stops Ford, 53.629, 178.560, 0.349, 0.018
22) Daniel Suarez, No. 99 Tootsies Orchid Lounge Chevrolet, 53.651, 178.487, 0.371, 0.022
23) Ross Chastain, No. 1 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet, 53.671, 178.420, 0.391, 0.020
24) Erik Jones, No. 43 U.S. AIR FORCE Chevrolet, 53.693, 178.347, 0.413, 0.022
25) Harrison Burton, No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford, 53.695, 178.341, 0.415, 0.002
26) Justin Haley, No. 31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, 53.745, 178.175, 0.465, 0.050
27) Alex Bowman, No. 48 Ally Chevrolet, 53.750, 178.158, 0.470, 0.005
28) Todd Gilliland, No. 36 gener8tor Skills Ford, 53.849, 177.831, 0.569, 0.099
29) Chase Elliott, No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, 53.874, 177.748, 0.594, 0.025
30) Noah Gragson #, No. 42 Wendy's Beef is in the Bag Chevrolet, 53.902, 177.656, 0.622, 0.028
31) Austin Hill(i), No. 62 Realtree Chevrolet, 53.973, 177.422, 0.693, 0.071
32) Ty Dillon, No. 77 NationsGuard Chevrolet, 54.033, 177.225, 0.753, 0.060
33) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 47 Kroger/Cheez-It Chevrolet, 54.039, 177.205, 0.759, 0.006
34) Corey LaJoie, No. 7 Celsius Chevrolet, 54.059, 177.140, 0.779, 0.020
35) Zane Smith(i), No. 38 Wellcare Ford, 54.063, 177.127, 0.783, 0.004
36) Riley Herbst(i), No. 15 Monster Energy/Mechanix Wear Ford, 54.106, 176.986, 0.826, 0.043
37) BJ McLeod, No. 78 B'laster Chevrolet, 54.297, 176.363, 1.017, 0.191
38) JJ Yeley(i), No. 51 Jacob Companies/Biohaven Ford, 54.424, 175.952, 1.144, 0.127

Round 2
Pos, Driver, Car, Time, Speed, -Fastest, -Next
1) Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Freight Direct Toyota, 52.979, 180.751, ---, ---
2) Aric Almirola, No. 10 Smithfield Ford, 53.011, 180.642, 0.032 sec, 0.032 sec
3) Ty Gibbs #, No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota, 53.025, 180.594, 0.046, 0.014
4) Chase Briscoe, No. 14 Mahindra Tractors YOG Ford, 53.085, 180.390, 0.106, 0.060
5) Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Wurth Ford, 53.124, 180.258, 0.145, 0.039
6) Christopher Bell, No. 20 Rheem Toyota, 53.245, 179.848, 0.266, 0.121
7) Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, 53.281, 179.726, 0.302, 0.036
8) Joey Logano, No. 22 Shell Penzoil/Autotrader Ford, 53.299, 179.666, 0.320, 0.018
9) Kyle Larson, No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, 53.302, 179.656, 0.323, 0.003
10) Chris Buescher, No. 17 Fastenal Ford, 53.303, 179.652, 0.324, 0.001
(i) Ineligible for driver points in this series, (#) Rookie

Starting Line Up: GEICO 500, Talladega Superspeedway
Pos, Driver, Car, Team, Time, Speed
1) Denny Hamlin, 11, FedEx Freight Direct Toyota, 52.979 sec, 180.751 mph
2) Aric Almirola, 10, Smithfield Ford, 53.011, 180.642
3) Ty Gibbs #, 54, Monster Energy Toyota, 53.025, 180.594
4) Chase Briscoe, 14, Mahindra Tractors YOG Ford, 53.085, 180.390
5) Ryan Blaney, 12, Wurth Ford, 53.124, 180.258
6) Christopher Bell, 20, Rheem Toyota, 53.245, 179.848
7) Martin Truex Jr., 19, Bass Pro Shops Toyota, 53.281, 179.726
8) Joey Logano, 22, Shell Penzoil/Autotrader Ford, 53.299, 179.666
9) Kyle Larson, 5, HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, 53.302, 179.656
10) Chris Buescher, 17, Fastenal Ford, 53.303, 179.652
11) Kevin Harvick, 4, Mobil 1 Ford, 53.455, 179.141
12) Bubba Wallace, 23, Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota, 53.470, 179.091
13) Tyler Reddick, 45, MoneyLion Toyota, 53.496, 179.004
14) Austin Dillon, 3, Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, 53.497, 179.001
15) Austin Cindric, 2, Menards/Duracell Ford, 53.499, 178.994
16) Ryan Preece, 41, Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford, 53.509, 178.961
17) Kyle Busch, 8, McLaren Custom Grills Chevrolet, 53.548, 178.830
18) William Byron, 24, Liberty University Chevrolet, 53.559, 178.793
19) AJ Allmendinger, 16, Farmsmart Chevrolet, 53.568, 178.763
20) Brad Keselowski, 6, Castrol Edge Ford, 53.611, 178.620
21) Michael McDowell, 34, Love's Travel Stops Ford, 53.629, 178.560
22) Daniel Suarez, 99, Tootsies Orchid Lounge Chevrolet, 53.651, 178.487
23) Ross Chastain, 1, Moose Fraternity Chevrolet, 53.671, 178.420
24) Erik Jones, 43, U.S. AIR FORCE Chevrolet, 53.693, 178.347
25) Harrison Burton, 21, Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford, 53.695, 178.341
26) Justin Haley, 31, LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, 53.745, 178.175
27) Alex Bowman, 48, Ally Chevrolet, 53.750, 178.158
28) Todd Gilliland, 36, gener8tor Skills Ford, 53.849, 177.831
29) Chase Elliott, 9, NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, 53.874, 177.748
30) Noah Gragson #, 42, Wendy's Beef is in the Bag Chevrolet, 53.902, 177.656
31) Austin Hill(i), 62, Realtree Chevrolet, 53.973, 177.422
32) Ty Dillon, 77, NationsGuard Chevrolet, 54.033, 177.225
33) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 47, Kroger/Cheez-It Chevrolet, 54.039, 177.205
34) Corey LaJoie, 7, Celsius Chevrolet, 54.059, 177.140
35) Zane Smith(i), 38, Wellcare Ford, 54.063, 177.127
36) Riley Herbst(i), 15, Monster Energy/Mechanix Wear Ford, 54.106, 176.986
37) BJ McLeod, 78, B'laster Chevrolet, 54.297, 176.363
38) JJ Yeley(i), 51, Jacob Companies/Biohaven Ford, 54.424, 175.952
(i) Ineligible for driver points in this series, (#) Rookie

Track Qualifying Record: Bill Elliott , 05/03/87, 44.998 sec, 212.809 mph
Track Race Record: Mark Martin: 05/10/97, 2:39:18, 188.354 mph

John Davison

Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.

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Volume 2023, Issue 4, Posted 1:41 PM, 04.22.2023