The lengthy qualifying process for the Daytona 500 begins Sunday afternoon with front-row qualifying. While Thursday’s Budwesier Duels to set the rest of the field for Sunday’s race will be familiar, Sunday’s session will be different, as it’ll be the first group qualifying session for the Daytona 500.
There hasn’t been much talk, as in disgruntled-toned talk, regarding the Budweiser Duels. After all, those races have been run in varying lengths to help set Daytona 500 starting grids for years. The same can’t be said, though, for the whole Sunday group qualifying thing.
Drivers sure don’t seem to like it, and given the debacle that was qualifying for the second Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway race of 2014, I think that’s completely understandable.
“I don’t believe in the qualifying format, especially as what we do at restrictor plate tracks,” Ryan Newman said during Media Day at Daytona on Thursday. “At the non-restrictor plate tracks, I could argue it, even in my own head, because it’s still the driver and the race track. But having other cars manipulate you in an effort to qualify, especially at one of the biggest races of the year, to me is not in the best eyes of our sport. Just based on who might get knocked out for somebody else’s or team order, that is not necessarily fair.”
Last fall at Talladega, NASCAR tweaked the procedure in an attempt to cut down on downtime. Whether or not a result of the track-time reduction, several drivers failed to post lap times in that Talladega qualifying session. Jeff Gordon came close to finding himself in that predicament, and Tony Stewart had to rely on a past champion’s provisional to get into that race.
Will the same thing happen at Daytona Sunday afternoon? Will drivers have this thing figured out enough to not end up with a Talladega qualifying repeat? Maybe with one such qualifying effort under their belts, maybe things will go better this time around. I guess we’ll see soon enough. I guess one positive about Daytona 500 qualifying is that there’s always the Duels to fix it.
After the Talladega debacle, fans of the format and critics of the drivers said drivers knew the rules, thus knowing how much time they had to get on the track and post laps. That’s easier said than done, though.
Granted, I’ve never driven a race car at any level, but I think I understand the criticisms of the drivers. It’s sort of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation. Go out early and you end up on the track by yourself or nearly by yourself with little to no drafting help, as nobody else wants to go out and help a competitor. Wait until other drivers are nearly out of time and have to go, and you may end up one of the drivers in the back of the line in danger of not getting to the checkered flag in time for your lap to count.
Knock-out qualifying may be fun to watch and add to excitement at most tracks on the circuit, but I’m thinking there has to be a better option for Daytona and Talladega. Whether or not that would be a return to single-car runs, I don’t know. But Newman has a what seems like a well-thought-out idea.
“We don’t even have to do single car,” Newman said. “We could do single car format, but put two or three cars out there at the same time and knock them out. It’s not rocket science. There is the math to do it there in a one-hour program. Just like what we do in qualifying practice. You have four cars out there, evenly spaced, and you do your qualifying runs. NASCAR waves the green flag and you go. If you don’t go within two seconds, you get disqualified from qualifying. It’s pretty simple.”