Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – TALLADEGA, AL – To Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney, Friday’s practice at Talladega was both productive and enjoyable, as drivers acclimated to the characteristics of the new superspeedway competition package.
The immediate first impression was that the closing rate was substantially faster than it had been in recent years. That could present a problem on Sunday when a race leader attempts to block runs from competing lanes.
“You get bigger runs on people, way bigger than last year, way bigger than Daytona this year” Blaney said. “There’s really no more of that air bubble. It’s very small. But you can get huge runs on people. As the leader, we played around a little bit with it in our drafting practice.
“It doesn’t have that beachball effect to where it stalls them out or pushes you away. They just keep coming at you because they’re picking up so much mile-an-hour. You’re going to see some blocks that people would make before this race… and they’re not going to work out, and they might end badly.
“But that’s what we practice for. But it’ll be tougher to make a block—that’s for sure.”
RULE CHANGE DOESN’T THROW BRAD KESELOWSKI FOR A LOOP
After Kurt Busch topped the speed chart at 202.671 mph in opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Talladega Superspeedway, and 21 drivers exceeded the 200-mph mark, NASCAR added a one-inch wicker to the nine-inch-tall spoiler and gave teams the option of changing gears to lower engine rpms.
So what happened? With cars drafting in larger packs, Ryan Newman paced second practice at 204.157 mph, and 24 drivers topped 200 mph.
Between the practice sessions, Brad Keselowski didn’t seem taken aback by the rule changes.
“I think pretty much everyone coming here thought there was a large potential for an audible along the way,” Keselowski said. “I’m not frustrated. I’m just focused.”
With the taller spoiler, the cars punch a bigger hole in the air, giving Keselowski an idea of what Sunday’s GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) might look like.
“A lot like a truck race, just 500 miles,” he quipped. “Perhaps a little more attrition.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON WAGES WAR WITHIN HIMSELF AT BOSTON MARATHON
For Jimmie Johnson, the Boston Marathon was a struggle—within himself.
Johnson’s competitive spirit was driving him to try to complete his first try at the 26 mile, 385-yrd distance in three hours or less.
On the other hand, the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion wanted to enjoy his first experience in one of the world’s most prestigious marathons.
“The race itself was awful and amazing at the same time,” Johnson said on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, venue for Sunday’s GEICO 500. “I had a goal in mind to run a certain pace and tried to hang onto it, so I didn’t really slow down and enjoy the experience as much as I maybe should have.
“I had a few arguments with myself along the way like, ‘Look, you just need to enjoy this and take it all in.’ So there was definitely a mental battle going on throughout the 26 miles.”
Johnson got plenty of encouragement from his fellow runners, and at the halfway point, he stopped looking at his watch.
“The first reality check was mile seven,” Johnson said. “It was the first flat stretch of road, and I couldn’t run the pace that I had hoped to at the heart rate that I had desired to run for the entire distance, and I’m like, ‘All right, pull it back.’
“And then at halfway, I was a minute, 20 (seconds) off the split time I needed, and I knew I wasn’t going to get any faster on the second half with the hills. So I honestly got into a pretty aggressive argument with myself and just told myself to stop looking at my watch and run comfortably.
“The next time I looked at my watch, I was on the final road, and I saw it was a 3:08 and something as I was approaching the finish line. I went, ‘Damn, I ran pretty good.’ ‘Cause I didn’t look that second half of the race. I just had to go to a different place mentally to get through it.”
Johnson finished the course in 3:09:07, good enough to qualify automatically for next year’s Boston Marathon—if he decides to run it the day after the spring race at Richmond.