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From a competition standpoint, one of the most radical changes we'll see on the track this year will come Saturday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway.

For the first time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, we'll see the new knockout qualifying format in use at a restrictor-plate race track (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on FOX). That ensures that times trials at Talladega will look nothing like the single-car qualifying we've seen in the past.

To achieve maximum speeds and thereby advance to subsequent rounds, drivers will have to draft in packs. Typically, the more cars in the draft, the faster they'll go.

All cars entered in Sunday's Sprint Cup race will take part in the first session, which will narrow the field to 24.

Round two will cut the number of drivers eligible for the pole to 12. What will be fascinating to watch is the way teams and cars representing each manufacturer choose to work together as the groups of cars grow progressively smaller.

Knockout time trials already have been an unqualified success at open-motor venues, and drivers expect proceedings to be even more frenetic at the plate tracks.

What's more, the entire Cup qualifying session will be compressed into a window of roughly one hour, a far cry from the single-car sessions that typically have lasted between two and three hours.

More action in a much smaller time frame is a winning proposition for competitors and spectators alike.

@nascarcasm

--To anyone who has ever equated NASCAR to professional wrestling, clearly that suggestion is incorrect. NASCAR drivers actually land punches.

--We can promise you that NASCAR officials are reviewing the incident that occurred on pit road between Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears. They have already spoken with Ambrose, and will speak with Casey Mears once he regains consciousness.

--Know that thing that tire specialists do where they use a propane torch and scraper to gauge wear on tires that come off the car? Yeah, Clint Bowyer's team probably didn't have to do that on Saturday night.

--Besides Joey Logano's second Sprint Cup series win of 2014, another accolade worth mentioning is Brian Scott's impressive streak of Nationwide races where he hasn't been kicked in the crotch by a fellow driver reaching an impressive two. Keep it up, Brian!

(Follow @nascarcasm on Twitter. His unique views on NASCAR are his own -- but chances are you already knew that.)

NASCAR Numbers

173: The race-high number of laps led by Jeff Gordon Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, bringing his RIR career total to 1,637, most among active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers. Gordon has been a consistent frontrunner all season long, leading to the points lead after nine races.

15: The series leading number of bonus points scored by both Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick through nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races this season. Bonus points are awarded for winning races (3 points), leading at least one lap and leading the most laps in an event (1 point each). Logano and Harvick are the only two-time winners in the series.

59: In points, Jimmie Johnson's deficit to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader Jeff Gordon through nine races. After a 32nd-place finish at Richmond, the six-time champion is in eighth place, already more than a full race out of the lead with 17 events left in the regular season. Of course, in the new championship format, a Johnson win will render points practically meaningless.

14.2: The average finish at Talladega Superspeedway of Brad Keselowski and David Ragan, best among active drivers with at least 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts there. There are those who would contend Ragan's win at the 2.66-mile track last year was a fluke. The stats argue otherwise.

11: The combined number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories at Talladega posted by Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon (6 wins) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (5). No other active driver has more than two victories at NASCAR's biggest race track.

NASCAR ETC.

The milestone watch continues onto Talladega Superspeedway for Kyle Busch. Busch needs only 30 more laps led to become the 15th driver to reach the 10,000 laps-led plateau in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history. Busch has led 30 or more laps only once in his 18 career starts on the series' largest track. ... Also on a milestone watch, Denny Hamlin will make his 300th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start on Sunday at Talladega. In the first 299, Hamlin has 23 wins, which ranks tied for 30th on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins list. ... Darrell Wallace Jr. will make his first NASCAR Nationwide Series start of the 2014 season at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, May 3, behind the wheel of the No. 20 ToyotaCare Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. The start will mark the 20-year-old's fifth-career start in the series. In his previous four starts in the Nationwide Series, Wallace, a NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate, earned one pole (Dover International Speedway) and three top-10 finishes in 2011. His worst finish in those four starts is 12th at Dover after contact on the last restart late in the race took him out of contention for a top finish.

Tweets Of The Week

Jeff Gordon?