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What to expect at Talladega? Drivers don’t agree

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 - Qualifying

TALLADEGA, AL - APRIL 27: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Mountain Dew/Little Caesar’s Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 27, 2019 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — After two days with a new package at Talladega Superspeedway, drivers admit the closing rates between cars is as fast as they’ve ever experienced.

What that means for today’s race remains uncertain. Some drivers suggest that blocking will be tougher, if at all possible. Others say it can still be done.

And some drivers suggest being in the lead might not be the best place to be on the last lap. But not everyone agrees.

Here’s what some drivers say they think will happen today:

Austin Dillon (starting 1st)

How do you keep the lead if it’s dangerous to block?

“I think having people behind you that you can trust is a big key to that. Getting those bowties up front and working together, that will be a big part of it. Blocking is going to be tougher for the ducts in the front, but it’s a part of the game. We’ll just have to test it out early and see what it is. I definitely don’t want to give up that front position, but there are going to be guys – just the front guy seems to be a little bit of a sitting duck. There will be a lot of movement on the track (Sunday), hopefully it’s good movement and not cars going the other way.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (starting 6th)

What do you think about the race?

“I don’t care what the package is. Speedway racing is speedway racing. We are all going to be close together and learn a lot (Sunday). I don’t think anybody learned anything in Friday’s session. We had one session with this package. We will learn throughout the day and make sure we learn as much as we can so that we can do the right thing at the end of the race to put ourselves in position to win.”

Ryan Blaney (starting 7th)

What do you expect for the race?

“This package is way different than what we had and I think you will see a way different race that we have seen here the past few years. It is new and exciting and there are going to be a lot of lead changes and comers and goers and you just get massive runs on people. That is pretty neat. It will be exciting for sure.”

Joey Logano (starting 8th)

Will there be more respect among the drivers with this new package?

“The runs are bigger and they come really fast and if you throw one of those late blocks, it is going to be chaos, or even if you realize a car is coming at you four or five miles per hour faster, you can’t stop that very well. Before, you could see it coming and everything happens a little slower motion. It will be really fast now. If cars are willing to make late moves, there is going to be a penalty to pay and unfortunately it is going to be cars that had nothing to do with it that get tied up in it. Everyone needs to give each other some room and learn what we can and can’t do early in the race.”

Alex Bowman (starting 9th)

“I think you’re not going to see somebody control the race the way they have in the past. The runs are too big to really block the lead the whole time, so I think you’re going to see more lead changes, probably more passing. Everybody is saying their cars aren’t driving so well, my car is driving pretty good so far, I’m really excited. I hope we have a good piece, not really surprised how fast we are. We saw that in the test, and they seem to be ok with it; I don’t know we’ll see where it goes from there.”

Is the leader a sitting duck on the final lap?

“I mean there’s some things you can do to keep guys from getting those big runs and managing your gap. I think that’s going to be more crucial than it’s ever been. The big side-to-side blocks like we saw pulled in the Xfinity race (Saturday) aren’t going to work. You’re going to need to manage that gap more so than you ever had to before.”

Kyle Larson (starting 10th)

Are you comfortable with the closing speeds?

“I’m not scared. It all feels fast when you’re out there. When you’re in an Xfinity car going 190 versus a Cup car that’s 200-plus. It’s still superspeedway racing and I think the bigger runs we’ve gotten at least in the little bit of drafting we did (Friday) was fun and different. The cars were a little bit more stable so you could be more aggressive too. I think the race will be really exciting and crazy.”

Chase Elliott (starting 11th)

What do you expect in the race?

“I really don’t know. There’s a lot of big runs and obviously the faster the runs are, the harder they are to block and anticipate. What I noticed (Friday), that was probably the biggest thing was just how it was a little easier to get a big run on a guy and it just seemed like whenever somebody behind you wanted to be done with you, they could just be done with you. It felt like you had less control being out front.”

Kyle Busch (starting 22nd)

Can the leader defend their position with this package?

“I think the leader can block and defend. The runs (Saturday) in the Xfinity race, you kind of saw were a bit slower and got stagnant as the guy got closer from behind. I don’t think you’ll have the same effect happen (Sunday). The runs will be greater and the guy up front is still going to try to block, but I guess it’s a matter of how nice the guy behind you is and whether or not he’ll hit the brakes or drives through you.”

How do you block when cars have faster closing rates?

“You kind of have to see it coming. If you know a guy’s going to block, you can kind of roll out a little bit and slow that run down, then you can not crash the car in front of you, but you take the risk of getting crashed from behind. There’s a lot of different things that you have to weigh. Just (Friday), there was a guy that pulled down in front of a run that me and six other guys had and I had to stop. I had no other choice because I had somebody on my outside too. The fourth guy in line back there about got wrecked. There’s going to be an accordion effect.”

Erik Jones (starting 27th)

Do you expect less blocking in the race?

“I think everybody is still going to be blocking if you get up in the lead. It’s the only matter of defense that we have to keep it. It’s going to cause a wreck at some point just because the runs are so big. You’re going to have a guy with a lot of energy and a lot of momentum coming and somebody is going to make a big block. Even if they don’t want to turn the guy around, they’re not going to have time to slow down. It’s going to cause an issue at some point.”