The NASCAR Nationwide Series had its first complete "knockout" qualifying session on a restrictor plate track Friday evening, holding three rounds of qualifying for Saturday's Aaron's 312 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The last time the circuit visited a restrictor plate track was back in February, when rain cancelled qualifying at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway after only one round.
Joe Gibbs Racing mastered the drafting qualifying format at Talladega on Friday, putting its three entries in the top-three spots on the starting grid for Saturday's race. Sam Hornish Jr. will start on the pole for his first of seven series races this year with JGR after posted a 51.268-second qualifying lap (186.783 mph) in the third and final round of the qualifying session. It was Hornish's second-consecutive pole, as he also started on the pole in his most recent Nationwide Series start -- the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Nov. 2013.
"It's great to be at Joe Gibbs Racing," Hornish said. "It takes three teammates to get this done today."
His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Elliott Sadler, will start next to him on the front row for the race, with another teammate, Darrell Wallace Jr., starting third and in the second row.
One team that couldn't get it together was the three-car organization of JR Motorsports. JRM teammates Kasey Kahne, Regan Smith and Chase Elliott never seemed to be able to get together in the first 25-minute round, and at times late in the round, Elliott, with two wins and a second-place finish in the three most recent races, couldn't seem to find anybody to draft with. As a result, none of the JR Motorsports teammates made it past the first round. All will race on Saturday, though, by virtue of owner points provisionals.
"Everybody just got kind of antsy, and we just couldn't figure out when everybody wanted to go," Elliott said.
Kahne will start 32nd, Smith 33rd and Elliott 38th.
Brendan Gaughan, Josh Richardson Jr., and Matt DiBenedetto posted the fastest lap times in the first round. But JGR previewed what was to come when Wallace, Hornish and Sadler took the top three spots at the top of the scoring pylon after the second round.
The top-12 drivers who advanced to the third round include (in the order in which they'll start on Saturday): Hornish, Sadler, Wallace, Ryan Reed, Dakoda Armstrong, Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Chris Buescher, James Buescher, Brian Scott, Brendan Gaughan, Landon Cassill.
Failing to make the race were Chad Boat and Derrike Cope. Tanner Berryhill spun and hit the wall just past the halfway mark in the first round, be he had already posted a fast enough lap time to make the race.