Qualifying teaser bodes well for Dega

The method was bypassed for the Daytona 500 in February because of the traditional twin qualifying races there. But Saturday's show begged the question whether NASCAR should have shown off the new format in its showcase race, its season opener.

As anticipated, the first 10 minutes of Saturday's first round were the best and wildest, with several big drafting packs on the track, producing lap speeds of 200-plus mph.

By the end, that first session didn't count much as far as qualifying, but it may well have been the real preview of Sunday's race.

Less than eight minutes into the frolic, Kyle Busch popped a lap at 200.574 mph, closely followed by Joey Logano at 200.171 and Jimmie Johnson at 199.912.

That was a throwback to the real Talladega -- the one that was accurately billed as the world's fastest track before restrictor plates were added, to stifle the engines and slow down the cars for safety's sake, in 1988.

But none of the fastest group from the first session made it to the third. Logano will start 16th, Busch 19th and Johnson 20th on Sunday. So there'll be the usual scramble of fast cars from mid-pack toward the front.

Logano, before Saturday, had been the only Cup driver to have made it through all rounds of all qualifying sessions all season.

"It's kind of a bummer," Logano said. "I would have liked to have kept that streak going, but I knew this was going to be the wild-card event."

The only prominent naysayer about the format here was Dale Earnhardt Jr., the reigning Daytona 500 champion, who'd said coming in that he wasn't going to take a lot of risks under this wild, new format.

Earnhardt got out of it what he put into it: He'll start 30th, but "we're not too worried about it," he said.

"It wasn't a whole lot of fun, to be honest with you," Earnhardt said. "I'd like to do some heat races or something, maybe. That would be a little bit better than this."

For just about everybody else, Saturday was a blast that bodes well for more of the same Sunday.

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