Daytona qualifying stirs controversy,
discussions on safety and format
Photo by Justin Melillo/TheRacingExperts.com
Greg Biffle, Justin Allgaier, Terry Labonte, and others wait on pit road to start their qualifying effort Friday.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying had some drivers, crew members, and fans voice their displeasure about how the session played out.
The purpose of qualifying is to get the fastest possible lap, which make the strategy in this new group format interesting, and seemingly less safe than it should be.
NASCAR drivers have guts. They strap into a metal box on wheels, travel speeds over 200 mph, and race around 42 other people (on most weekends) for a living. What was witnessed on Friday afternoon, albeit rain shortened, was more insane than gutsy. Imagine driving on the highway going 70 mph in the middle lane, and the left and right lanes are going 10 mph.
After 25 minutes of nail-biting and multiple hold-your-breath moments, David Gilliland managed to grab his third career pole and first for Front Row Motorsports, with Reed Sorenson 2nd, Landon Cassill 3rd, and Bobby Labonte 4th after rain canceled the second and third rounds. It’s not the usual top four you would expect on any given weekend.
Strategies during qualifying included drivers lining up at the end of pit road, blocking the entrance to the track, waiting for someone to make the first move so that they could capitalize and draft up to a faster lap. Other strategies consisted of running around the top or bottom of the track (sometimes both in the same area) at slow speeds, while other drivers going full speed have to maneuver through it without causing calamity.
It goes back to the issues with group qualifying at the beginning of the season, when drivers would cool down by running slow speeds on the track.
For the safety of our drivers, crews, and fans, NASCAR might want to come up with a fix, to make it both safer and more enjoyable.
Regan Smith, who finished 2nd in Friday night’s Subway Firecracker 250 in the Nationwide Series, tweeted that “Heat Races” come to mind after watching Cup qualifying. Just like the Duels in speedweeks, or maybe an entirely new concept, it would eliminate the slowing down at any rate.
Brad Keselowski tweeted Friday that instead of grouping up at all, they should “pull the plates off, keep fans back & do single car impound qualifying,” which in the interest of safety, might either be a sarcastic approach, or maybe a plea to just stop putting multiple cars on track until race time.
The qualifying methods were discussed on Thursday, after the first and only practice session that day, on SiriusXM’s Dialed In with Claire B Lang. Several crew chiefs were unhappy that teams were focused on mock qualifying than actually practicing. For the teams that wanted to practice racing, instead of qualifying, it was frustrating to them to have to maneuver in and out of the slow traffic. More or less, it was foreshadowing what would actually come out of the qualifying efforts on Friday.
Discussions continued on a variety of platforms on Saturday; most people agreeing it needs to be fixed, with no actual suggestion as to fixing it. An easy fix would be to enforce a minimum track speed, or enforce the 100 percent effort rule in qualifying.
Rain postponed the start of the Coke Zero 400 for Saturday, and continued to be a factor, as the race ended 48 laps prematurely.