NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR drivers hopeful for new qualifying format at superspeedways

Jeff Gordon won the pole for February’s Daytona 500, but most NASCAR drivers weren’t happy with the qualifying format.
Jeff Gordon won the pole for February’s Daytona 500, but most NASCAR drivers weren’t happy with the qualifying format. AP

Qualifying at Talladega Superspeedway takes on a new look Saturday. And from listening to drivers, it doesn’t come a minute too soon.

After recent “knockout” qualifying at NASCAR’s two restrictor-plate tracks – Talladega and Daytona International Speedway – did nothing more than irritate Sprint Cup drivers, changes have been made.

Qualifying for Sunday’s Geico 500 and July’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona will be a combination of the group qualifying that is used at other tracks and NASCAR’s now-obsolete single-car format.

In a two-round format, each car will take a single lap by itself on the track. Another car will be released on the track, however, to speed things up. The 12 fastest cars will advance to the final round.

“I feel really good about what it has evolved into,” said driver Kevin Harvick. “I think all the competitors feel that way. I think the guys in the garage feel that way. We were tearing up a lot of race cars in qualifying.”

Group qualifying at Talladega in 2014 and in this year’s Daytona 500 caused crashes and lots of ill feelings from drivers.

“It’s stupid,” said Clint Bowyer in February. “There’s no sense in doing this.”

Shortly after he failed to advance out of the first round, Tony Stewart posted this on his Twitter account:

“Today used to be about showcasing the hard work from the teams over the winter. Now it (sic) a complete embarrassment for our series.”

Even pole winner Jeff Gordon agreed the format was stressful.

“There’s so much going on in your mind,” Gordon said. “It’s literally like playing chess at 200 miles an hour. It’s pretty crazy.”

The rule change has left most drivers feeling relieved.

“It was a very unnecessary stress for everybody,” said Danica Patrick. “(With) the amount of conversations and meetings with drivers, I felt like I was on ‘Survivor’ and trying to make alliances. I found out the best thing to do was to not have any and just be the one that tags on the group, because nobody really cared if it was just one car.

“So apparently I wouldn’t have made it on ‘Survivor’ because I was trying to make too many alliances.”

Said Harvick, who called the qualifying at Talladega last October “the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in my life:” “I think the sped-up single car process with one lap hopefully it makes as much sense as everybody thinks it’s going to. And make the process that much better. I think there have been a lot of things that have changed, but I think our qualifying change has been week-in and week-out probably one of the better changes that we have had in our sport in a while. I think when you look at the adjustment and the time everybody has put in; I hope it evolves to that on this weekend as well.”

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