After two successful weekends on the short tracks followed by the Easter weekend break, Paul Menard and the No. 21 Quick Lane team head to one of the biggest tracks, Talladega Superspeedway where an all-new rules package will be used.
Gone are the traditional restrictor plates that have been used at Talladega and its sister track, Daytona International Speedway, for more than 30 years. In their place will be a tapered spacer, the same device that has been used on intermediate tracks this season to reduce horsepower.
Further changes for Talladega include a taller rear spoiler, nine inches instead of the eight used at other tracks this season, and a bolt-on track bar mount which will raise the rear of the car one inch to 12 inches.
There has been limited testing of the new package, which leaves lots of unknowns heading into this weekend’s GEICO 500.
“I’m not sure what to expect,” Menard said. “It’s a different package from what we’ve run there for years.
“We don’t know how the cars will draft, or whether we’ll end up running single-file or in tandem.”
He said he expects to see some drivers trying the tandem moves of several years back, where two drivers hooked up nose to tail to gain speed.
“I expect there will be some tandem drafting, but I don’t know how long two drivers can stay hooked up,” he said.
One thing Menard is sure of is that there will be more emphasis put on practice, which is a change from previous Talladega weekends, where teams tended to try to limit practice time in hopes of avoiding damage to their cars from a crash.
“We’ve got to see what the car needs and wants to go fast, so we’ll practice more than we’d normally like to since we’ll be putting ourselves at risk,” he said. “There are going to be some interesting practices.”
Menard said he and the Quick Lane team are headed to Talladega on a roll after strong runs at Bristol and Martinsville, where they had finishes of sixth and 10th, gained five spots in the standings to 16th place and scored Stage points in five of six Stages in the past three races, dating back to Texas Motor Speedway.
“We had a couple of good runs on short tracks, and now we go the biggest, fastest track we race on,” he said. “We have confidence and momentum. We just have to keep it going.”
Qualifying for the GEICO 500 is set for Saturday at 3:40 p.m. (4:40 Eastern Time), and the race is scheduled to start just after 1 p.m (2 p.m. Eastern Time), with TV coverage on FOX.