Qualifying: Sadler adapts best

Elliott Sadler, confronting new car-body measurements as NASCAR experiments with throttle response and aerodynamics at the restricted tracks, came out on top Friday evening in qualifying for Sunday's EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

Qualifying: Sadler adapts best

Sadler lapped in 50.415sec (189.943mph) to edge Jamie McMurray by a healthy 0.146sec, an unusually large margin for a plate race. The gap between first and second was greater than the gap between second-place McMurray and ninth-place Bill Elliott.

Jimmie Johnson was third, followed by Sterling Marlin, Jeff Gordon, and Sadler teammate Dale Jarrett. Meanwhile, superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr., winner of a record four straight races at this track (including a controversial victory in April), was banished to the rear after the rear of his car was found to be fractionally low in inspection after qualifying.

NASCAR requires that the right-rear quarter-panel be at a height of 35in to ground, with a tolerance of 0.25in. According to team members, the car measured 0.0625 beyond the tolerance.

Earnhardt, who was 11th-fastest in the time trials, saw his speed disallowed and was forced to take a second provisional, the 38th spot. Points leader Matt Kenseth also needed a provisional and will start 37th.

Junior had to start at the back in April due to an engine change but had made his way to the front after 20 laps, on the way to a victory tainted by an apparent violation of NASCAR race procedure (driving below the yellow line to make a pass). The rule was not enforced and the victory stood.

In addition to all that, Junior still is fighting off the effects of a hard crash last week at Dover, which left him with a minor concussion (he was not cleared to race until Wednesday) and a very sore ankle.

What most are watching more closely are NASCAR's new aero rules, revealed two weeks ago and specific for this race. NASCAR frequently has used the fall Talladega race to try out car and procedure modifications with a view toward the next year's Daytona 500. This week, in an attempt to give drivers more throttle response, thus making them feel less helpless in the tight, aero-controlled packs created by plate racing, the cars have more spoiler and less restriction to the fuel flow.

"I think it's going to help the drivers with the throttle response," Sadler opined. "I think before, with so much horsepower taken away from the motors, we felt like if we had to lift any and got out of line any at all that we could not get back in line or we would be left too far behind. Now with the way the spoilers and the restrictor plates are done, I think we can be a little more patient.

"I think it's going to be a tighter pack, but I do think the drivers will be able to make better decisions. I'm just speculating right now until I get in practice tomorrow morning. The closing rates are going to be a lot different, so we just have to go off that and make some adjustments."

And, truly, Talladega doesn't give a real good read on what would happen at Daytona, assuming NASCAR adopts the package.

"This place is as wide as a football field, and you're in the corner so long and it's so high-banked that handling is not an issue," he added. "I think they could come out here and shave half of our spoilers off and it's not going to affect us here like it will at Daytona."

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