FORT WORTH, TX – Another day on Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying is behind us and another embarrassment has ensued. Jimmie Johnson put his No. 48 Chevrolet on the pole for the first time since 2016 in Friday’s qualifying session at the Texas Motor Speedway with a top speed of 188.890 mph. It capped a perfect day for him as he was quickest in practice earlier on in the day and led the way in all three rounds of knockout qualifying to set the field for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (3 p.m. ET/FOX/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
But, it was what happened from the start of qualifying to the end, to what’s drawing more attention.
Jimmie Johnson during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on March 29, 2019 in Fort Worth, Texas.
See, once again, we saw cars sitting idle on pit road. Earlier this week, NASCAR tried to make a fix to the qualifying format, but after another effort, it showed that group qualifying isn’t working.
Clint Bowyer was irate when he tried to go but saw Ryan Newman blocking the middle lane. The rule states that you can’t do that. But, Newman and others worked in the gray areas because when someone else left their spot further up in the line on pit road, they’d drive up to take it, even though their car may be blocking some of the middle lane.
That has most of the drivers confused why Newman wasn’t penalized. As a result, Clint Bowyer didn’t make it out of the first round of qualifying and will start 25th.
“I guess this is a make-up-the-rules-as-we-go event in qualifying,” Bowyer said after qualifying his No. 14 Ford. “It’s sad. Those people up there paid a lot of money to bring their families here and watch a qualifying sessions and people try to go out and do their best. You’re just sitting around and waiting because you only know your best is good enough if the guy in front of you does a good job. That’s not qualifying.”
When asked what can be done?
“Learn from your mistakes,” Bowyer answered. “That’s how you get better. Learn from your mistakes. We already had this failure and here we are doing it again. Come on.”
He’s right. Qualifying wasn’t meant to sit idle on pit road and see who can park the best. That’s not what NASCAR had in mind when they said that qualifying should be entertaining and that they’re in an “entertainment business.”
I wrote earlier in the week that the fixes that NASCAR thought that they made wouldn’t fix the problem at hand – drafting and nobody wanting to lead. See, the cars are obviously faster in a draft than without one. Because of that, no one wants to be the first car off pit road. They all just sit there like children waiting for someone else to go. So, those rules that were made didn’t give anyone incentive to lead.
The drivers showed again on Friday that it doesn’t matter what rules you make, they’re not going to put on a show. No one is going to lead.
NASCAR made their stance that they didn’t want to go back to single car qualifying.
So, who wins?
Right now, no one wins but the fans and the TV networks lose big time. No one wants to watch cars sit on pit lane idle. Period. That’s bad TV and a bad business model to get fans to tune in to watch. I get that single car qualifying isn’t the most glamourous, but it at least gets cars on track and action to witness. It’s far better than what we’re seeing now.
Jay Fabian, Cup managing series director, said series officials would look at all options once again.
“We’re obviously disappointed with what happened,” Fabian said. “We’re disappointed with what we saw. Nobody deserves to see that. Our fans don’t deserve it. We’re going to take whatever steps we have to, to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again. Pretty much everything is on the table as far as what we’ll do moving forward.”
“It’s disappointing that they sit out there (on pit road) as long as they do. It’s disappointing that they give reasons why they don’t go and then someone goes and they choose to not follow them. A lot of what they say doesn’t add up with their actions on pit road. That’s the disappointing part. When you see someone roll, you would assume that somebody would follow them and they chose not to.”
To me, it’s time to make wholesale changes. It’s time to shorten each round to just three minutes and reward the first car to cross the finish line. If that doesn’t work, take points away for those who sit idle on pit road by the minute. If that doesn’t work, what’s wrong with setting the field on speed in single car runs?
In the action that we did see, Hendrick Motorsports shined. Johnson, earned his 36th career Cup Series pole as HMS went 1-2-3.
William Byron will join Johnson on the front row after qualifying with a speed of 188.416 mph in his No. 24 Chevrolet. Chase Elliott will start third in his No. 9 Chevrolet after circling the 1.5-mile track with a lap of 188.271 mph.
Daniel Suarez (187.885 mph) and Austin Dillon (187.097 mph) rounded out the top five.
Throw in Daniel Hemric in seventh and you have three HMS cars and two RCR cars in the top 4 Rows.
The fourth HMS car in Alex Bowman crashed in the first round of qualifying and will start in the back.
O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Starting Lineup
Row 1: Jimmie Johnson, William Byron
Row 2: Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez
Row 3: Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin
Row 4: Daniel Hemric R, Joey Logano
Row 5: Ty Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr.
Row 6: Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski
Row 7: Ryan Blaney, Paul Menard
Row 8: Michael McDowell, Kyle Busch
Row 9: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman
Row 10: Chris Buescher, Martin Truex Jr.
Row 11: Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson
Row 12: Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman
Row 13: Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto
Row 14: Ryan Preece R, David Ragan
Row 15: Matt Tifft R, Kurt Busch
Row 16: Corey LaJoie, Landon Cassill
Row 17: Parker Kligerman, BJ McLeod
Row 18: Ross Chastain, Bayley Currey
Row 19: Reed Sorenson, Garrett Smithley
Row 20: Timmy Hill