For Trevor Bayne and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team, the most important goal in NASCAR’s new “knockout” qualifying system is to not get knocked out of the starting field.
Bayne and his No. 21 Ford Fusion accomplished that Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway by posting the 12th fastest time with a speed of 198.318 miles per hour in the opening round of knockout qualifying. No matter what happened after that, he and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team were assured of racing in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499.
The second of three rounds didn’t go as well. Bayne, trying to catch just the right draft to boost his lap time, wound up dancing with an uncooperative partner and did not advance to the final round. After topping the speed chart in Friday’s final practice session with a lap at 199.015 mph, he had to settle for a 23rd-place starting spot with an official qualifying lap at 190.575 mph.
“We made it to the race and that’s what our goal was, so we’ll see what happens,” Bayne said. “Things didn’t go as well in the second session. We were on a really good lap with the Gibbs car there, and then they shut it down.”
“I thought that was going to be a good lap for us, but it’s just qualifying.”
Team co-owner Eddie Wood pointed out that in the knockout qualifying system, a team that is not assured of a starting spot has lots to lose in the relatively quick, but dramatic qualifying sessions.
“As crazy and wild and unpredictable as qualifying can be, we feel fortunate to be in the race,” he said. “We had to make it on our lap speed. We were in a good position in the first session, but we didn’t get as good a position in the second.”
“But the important thing is we’ll race on Sunday.”
The Aaron’s 499 is set to get the green flag just after 1 p.m. Eastern Time with TV coverage on FOX.