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NASCAR

Denny Hamlin, Brian Vickers eye midrace swap

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Steady rain Saturday washed out qualifying for the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, where the field was set by practice speeds.

It put Carl Edwards on the pole for Sunday’s race, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Marcos Ambrose.

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They ran a spirited Friday first practice session because everyone had seen the weather radar and knew the laps might count if qualifying was cancelled.

‘‘It was like a heat race out there,’’ said Edwards. ‘‘Everybody was trying to get their fastest lap, and we got ours with like a minute to go. It was pretty exciting.’’

Ambrose concurred.

‘‘We were all driving like idiots in that first practice knowing it was probably going to rain,’’ he said.

Joey Logano will start fourth, followed by Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth.

Denny Hamlin will be seventh in his first race since missing four with a compression fracture in a vertebra in his lower back.

Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Kasey Kahne round out the top 10 in the starting lineup.

Hamlin is planning to start the race but get out of his car at some point and let Brian Vickers take over for him. The two practiced the driver exchange Friday, with Hamlin getting out of the car through a roof hatch and Vickers coming in through a window.

They had the exchange down to just over a minute, which they determined would keep the car on the lead lap if the exchange was made under a caution.

‘‘It took us right at one minute every time that we rehearsed it, so we’re going to be plenty fine there,’’ Hamlin said. ‘‘Everything is pretty seamless.’’

Hamlin could get assistance during the race from good friend Michael Waltrip, who will be making just his second start of the season. It’s likely that Hamlin will drop to the back of the field at the start of the race to try avoid an early accident, but he could also risk falling out of the draft.

So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Waltrip, a fellow Toyota driver, partner with Hamlin to help him stay in the draft until he gets out of the car.

Waltrip seemed to foreshadow that Saturday when discussing his race plan.

‘‘Quite honestly, for the first 100 miles or so, I won’t be aggressive at all because it’s just a matter of getting in the flow and getting back to what you know you know how to do so well,’’ Waltrip said.

Waltrip had an opportunity to win Talladega last October until leader Tony Stewart triggered a multicar accident trying to hold off the field. It collected Waltrip, who turned 50 this week and now only runs restrictor-plate races.

His last win was at Talladega in 2003, but he led four laps in the season-opening Daytona 500 and finished 22d.

.   .   .

Regan Smith won the crash-filled Aaron’s 312 Nationwide race at Talladega Super­speedway when NASCAR said he was leading at the final caution flag Saturday night.

The race was delayed three hours by rain and slowed by several cautions, and NASCAR cut the distance by 10 laps as darkness closed in. Then Joey Coulter brought out a caution and NASCAR decided to make one attempt at a green-white-checkered finish.

At least 10 cars were jockeying for position in packs of two on the final lap when Vickers was spun hard into the outside wall.

Smith, Logano, and Kahne raced three-wide to the finish line and Kahne crossed it first. However, NASCAR decided Smith was leading when the caution came out and was the winner.

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