Long: Is this the future of NASCAR Cup qualifying?
Friday night’s chaotic Cup session left drivers dazed, the pole-winner diplomatic and others raising questions about what took place.
Qualifying wasn’t about who had the best motor or car. It was as much about who positioned themselves in the right place — through luck, fortune or strategy.
A couple of hours before qualifying, Austin Dillon, who was the fastest in practice, all but pleaded with the media to recognize how strong the Richard Childress Racing cars were. He understood that qualifying, with its reliance on the draft, might not reaffirm the results from practice.
The level of randomness to set the starting lineup — and determine the order that teams pick pit stalls — was what stood out at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was exciting and exasperating at the same time.
“Whatever the rules are, we’re not going to complain about them. We just want to win.”
Bottom line, what took place was better than single-car qualifying in terms of entertainment value. The more cars on track, the more entertaining it is.
Cars ran closer together because of the new rules package that made the draft a key component at Las Vegas, where tires don’t wear as much as they did last weekend at Atlanta. The tire wear last weekend made drafting not as effective for teams.
The question is, does this format provide a fair way for the top cars to have a chance at the pole? Or should that even matter?
NASCAR is changing the way it does things in search of more fans. It’s why there is a playoff system, why there is a new rules package and why there’s been talk of schedule changes in the coming years. Some moves will be jarring to long-time fans. Some moves may be almost seamless. This is a delicate balance for NASCAR’s leadership from Chairman Jim France on down.
France has been a constant presence at the track since taking over in August. He’s been a soothing figure for the garage, bruised by tumultuous times.
But his voice might not be the most important.
“Whatever the fans like,” Kyle Busch said about his thoughts of the qualifying session. “That’s what it’s all about, I guess. It’s interesting. It’s not about the fastest car, it’s about putting yourself in the right position and you have to have some luck on your side to get to the start-finish before time runs out.”
Kyle Larson simply said of qualifying: “I don’t know what to think about it.”
Chase Elliott said he thought “it was actually pretty entertaining.”
This is the first time teams had gone through this. There were many questions. As the season progresses, teams will have a better understanding and adapt to what qualifying has become. But it doesn’t mean they’ll all like it.
“It is stressful,” Jimmie Johnson said. “We had qualifying like this I think on a restrictor-plate track years ago. And I think it was great entertainment, but we were all afraid of how many cars we were going to tear up. So far, no cars are torn up, but I think that opportunity really exists. It is entertaining. There is much more going on for the driver than a single car qualifying lap especially with this rules package.”
The question is will fans adjust? Are they ready to see more of this in the coming weeks?