In a memo released to the teams, NASCAR announced on Monday a host of qualifying procedure updates, including additional deterrence measures, for all three NASCAR national series ahead of the upcoming race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
The goal is simple – to create order on pit road.
Starting this weekend in Texas, any driver that does not take a lap in any of the qualifying rounds will have all previously posted times in the session disallowed – which means instead of falling back on the previous round’s time, that driver would start the race from the back. Additionally, any driver who blocks pit road — at the judgment of NASCAR – in a way that prohibits other drivers from exiting pit road will incur a penalty, such as disallowing that team’s posted qualifying speed and/or disqualifying that car from additional qualifying rounds.
“The inherent problem (at Auto Club) was obviously everybody waiting to the end, and it being unorderly on the end of pit road with people blocking and playing all kinds of games,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller told NASCAR.com. “So really, we want to retake control and make order out of pit road and the way that drivers leave.
“We want to allow every competitor the chance to leave pit road when they want to leave and not be at the mercy of somebody else.”
Starting at Texas, vehicles not immediately making a qualifying attempt will be staged in a track-specific area designated by NASCAR. Once a vehicle leaves the area, it must continue directly onto the race track — it cannot stop at the end of pit road and wait in a gamesmanship play.
The structure of group qualifying will not change — meaning the first of three rounds is 10 minutes, the second round is five minutes and the third and final round is five minutes.
Miller said NASCAR reached this update in collaboration with teams and others in the industry, and there were a few options considered.
One that was not: A return to single-car qualifying at short tracks and intermediates.
“One of the things we wanted to hold true to is not to go back to single-car qualifying,” Miller said. “Single-car qualifying is two things – it’s boring and it’s expensive. It also doesn’t create a good show.
“Anytime we go on the track it should be a show. Certainly, we are in, first and foremost, the racing business. But we’re also in show business. We definitely have to provide our fans with something that’s intriguing to watch and gets them excited about coming back and watching the race.”
First off, I applaud NASCAR for seeing a change was needed and in turn making one. But, these changes don’t fully fix the problem at hand. See, the reason these games are being played is because drivers are too scared to be the leader of the pack.
With the new rules packages, the draft is so big, that the lead car is considerably slower than those behind. If you’re the lead car in the draft in qualifying in the final round, you’re almost guaranteed to start 12th. What incentive do they have to go out and be the guinea pig?
Now, instead of the ridiculousness of waiting at the end of pit road and sitting idle, they’ll just sit in their pit stalls. Does it really fix when they go out to the track? Will they time it right?
Unfortunately, fields aren’t big enough for drivers to really care whether they have a qualifying time or not. I’m assuming the lineup would be set by owners points for those that don’t have a time. So in theory, if what happens at Fontana happens again, and only 36 cars show up, you’d go from starting in the top 12 to starting 25th. Are you really losing all that much when you know that you have slower cars in front?
How many times have we seen the good cars that have to start in the back for whatever reason easily come back through?
The good thing is that if the entire top 12 fail to qualify, then it’s a better show for the fans in the race itself having to see the fast cars come from the back. But, it won’t realistically take too long for them to make their ways through though either.
I like the new changes but I’m not real sure how well this is going to actually work.