TALLADEGA -- Richard Childress was the man with the plan in Saturday’s “knockout” qualifying for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499, and the plan worked beautifully.
Brian Scott will lead a train of six cars with Earnhardt-Childress Racing engines at the front to start Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega. The group includes all four Richard Childress Racing cars entered for the race.
“We had a plan from the beginning to work as a team, about seven of us in a line,” Scott said.
ECR is an engine alliance between Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and RCR. Formed in 2007 and located on the RCR campus in Welcome, N.C., the alliance builds engines for Chevy drivers under the RCR banner and single-car teams.
On the race track, they collaborate to be more competitive with NASCAR’s two super teams, Hendrick Motorsports and Roush-Fenway Racing. Cooperation was their plan during “knockout” qualifying Saturday, which marked the first time that qualifying format was used at a restrictor-plate track.
Qualifying was broken down into three rounds, which ran liked mini-races. All 47 cars entered for the race ran in the 25-minute first round. The top 24 cars qualified for the 10-minute second round and the top 12 for the five-minute third round.
The top six qualifiers, all with ECR engines, were Scott, Menard, A.J. Allmendinger, Casey Mears, Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman. Scott, Newman, Dillon and Menard are RCR drivers. Allmenginer and Mears have ECR engines. Together, they had more cars than any single team.
“I think it just shows the more cars around here, you get more cars in a line is going to be faster,” Allmendinger said. “The great thing about RCR and the ECR package is we are all even. So it's not like we think their cars are faster.
“It just made sense to get us all lined up and get us all in a pack.”
Rounding out the top 12, were Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
Joe Nemechek, J.J. Yeley, Eric McClure and Dave Blaney failed to make the field of 43. Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex were sent to the back of the field after failing inspection.
Among notables, Dale Earnhardt Jr. came into qualifying planning to run conservatively with a newly built race car and qualified 30th. Joey Logano’s streak of participating in every knockout round this season ended when he failed to reach Saturday’s third round, but he qualified 16th.
Scott got the pole in his fifth Cup start, thanks partly to Paul Menard’s misjudging the final lap of the third round of qualifying. Menard made his move, believing the final complete lap had started, but one more lap got started before time expired.
“I guess he didn’t feel like we were going to get another lap,” Scott said. “Really that just played out to our benefit, where he was up there and we were able to get a better sniff of air on everybody.”
Though a mistake helped Scott get the pole, his making the field was no accident. Cars in the ECR alliance worked together from the start of the first round, keeping Scott in the middle to make sure would make the field.
The plan was for the experienced Ryan Newman would lead the group, meaning he would not get the pole. The lead car in the draft has no chance to run the fastest lap.
Menard, with the strongest car, volunteered to push from the rear, with Scott and others between.
“Brian Scott had to race his way in and that was our number one priority was to kind to put him in the middle to help him get in the race,” Menard said. “Then from there, stick to our plan.”