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In NASCAR Sprint Cup, making deals with rivals over radio becoming common at restrictor-plate tracks

HOT LAPS: Jeff Gordon led a top-four Cup qualifying sweep for Hendrick at Talladega.

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HOT LAPS: Jeff Gordon led a top-four Cup qualifying sweep for Hendrick at Talladega.

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Some compare it to trying to land a date for the prom. Really, it's two parties haggling over a potentially lucrative business deal.

With negotiations taking place at nearly 200 mph.

Drivers who usually only talk to crew chiefs, spotters and perhaps a teammate will chat with rivals in today's restrictor-plate race at Talladega Superspeedway. They'll seek a partner for an arrangement where one car leads, one pushes, then they switch.

"There will be a lot of pleading, a lot of begging," Clint Bowyer said.

At Talladega and Daytona, the two NASCAR tracks where horsepower is limited by the plates, teams have learned that two cars paired together can go much faster than drafting in a larger pack, which used to be the norm on the big ovals.

One car runs out front with another on his bumper, shoving him. After a few laps, they switch positions to keep the pusher from overheating his engine.

Those tactics will be crucial in the Aaron's 499. But more intriguing subplots can only be heard, not seen, as drivers flip from one channel to another on their radios, looking for partners.

"It's going to be interesting at the end of this thing," Bowyer said. "It will be quite humorous."

He wasn't laughing at the Daytona 500 after teammate Jeff Burton blew his engine, leaving Bowyer scrambling. He worked out a deal with Kyle Busch but couldn't find him on the radio.

"You just go through (the channels) and say, 'Is this Kyle?' and they say, 'No, get off my radio!' And you say, 'Hello, is this Kyle?' and you just keep switching 'til you find him," Bowyer said.

He never did, forcing them to pass messages to each other through spotters. That was no match for drivers talking directly on the radio, allowing them to make split-second decisions.

Some drivers resist the urge to load up their radio with the frequencies of their competitors. Matt Kenseth, for instance, has given his signal to several teams if they want to call him, but his radio will be programmed only to his spotter, crew chief and Roush Fenway Racing teammates.

Kenseth, coming off a win at Texas, doesn't want to get distracted from driving because he's fiddling with his radio.

Hey, there are laws against texting and driving.

"There's a potential for a lot to go wrong," he said. "I'm not the smartest guy in the world, and I worry about getting confused. Next thing you know, you don't get a full tank of gas on a green-flag pit stop and your crew chief can't get you because you're talking to someone else."

Still, drivers say talking is necessary with this new style of racing. The driver of the car that's pushing can't see anything except the machine on his front bumper. So the lead car's spotter will often be the eyes for both cars, an unusual situation.

"I'm not totally comfortable with it," Jeff Gordon said, "but I think it makes sense because you're basically blind when you're the car behind."

Busch chuckled when someone asked if trying to line up a racing partner is sort of like landing a date to the prom.

"I never had to do that, because I never went," said Busch, who was already in the NASCAR truck series at age 16. "I'd imagine that's probably what it's like. It's probably the best analogy anybody can come up with."

Gordon leads team's 1-2-3-4 in qualifying

Jeff Gordon earned his 70th Sprint Cup pole and led a Hendrick Motorsports sweep of the top four spots for today's race at Talladega. Gordon turned a two-lap average of 178.248 mph for the Aaron's 499. He broke a tie with Cale Yarborough for third on the career list and trails only Richard Petty (123) and David Pearson (113). Hendrick joined Pete DePaolo (Charlotte, 1956) and Jack Roush (California, 2005) as the only car owners with the four fastest cars to start a top-division race. Jimmie Johnson (177.844 mph) was second followed by Mark Martin (177.807) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (177.765).

Sprint Cup points

Through seven of 36 races. The top 10 drivers plus two wild cards (based on wins) after 26 races make the season-ending Chase for the Championship.

Driver Points Back

Carl Edwards 256—

Kyle Busch 247 9

Matt Kenseth 243 13

Jimmie Johnson 243 13

Kurt Busch 240 16

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 235 21

Ryan Newman 233 23

Juan Montoya 232 24

Kevin Harvick 228 28

Tony Stewart 213 43

Today's race

Aaron's 499, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 13

In NASCAR Sprint Cup, making deals with rivals over radio becoming common at restrictor-plate tracks 04/16/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 16, 2011 11:57pm]
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