For Sprint Cup Series qualifying at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on Saturday, NASCAR rolled out a tweaked qualifying format, shortening the first and second rounds and splitting the cars entered into two groups for round one. In the first round, cars in each group had five minutes to post lap times, and those moving into round two had five minutes to post laps in that round. The third round remained the same — five minutes in length.
The new format wound up causing confusion and resulted in some surprise DNQs on Saturday. In the first round, cars in the back of a large pack failed to cross the start/finish line before the red and black flags to have their lap times count, and NASCAR took a significant amount of time sorting out who posted times and who didn’t to set spots 25th through 43rd on the starting grid. In the end, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier and Joe Nemechek failed to make the race, and Tony Stewart had to rely on the past champion’s provisional to get in.
To add to the confusion, Reed Sorenson, not Nemechek, was listed as one of the three drivers to DNQ. But Nemechek’s car failed post-race inspection, so his time was disallowed. As a result, Nemechek was one of the three drivers out and Sorenson was added to the 43-car field. Sorenson left the track right after qualifying to head to Georgia for his 10-year high school class reunion, thinking he wouldn’t need to return to Talladega to race on Sunday. He received the good news via phone on the way to his reunion.
And when it came to drivers who made the race, there were some unusual names up front, while traditionally faster cars/drivers, including season pole leader Kevin Harvick, wound up in the back. Harvick will start 39th on Sunday. Joey Logano, who has traditionally at least made it to the third round in qualifying sessions this season, will start next to him in 40th in row 20.
the Sorenson-Nemechek situation was a result of Nemechek’s failed inspection, not the qualifying format. But what about the other oddities? Was this new superspeedway format an epic fail? Depends on who you ask.
Judging by callers on Claire B. Lang’s “Dialed In” show on SiriusXM NASCAR radio on Saturday, fans were split. Callers, in addition to several media members in the track media center, who supported the changes blamed drivers, saying that it was their own faults that they waited too late to make their qualifying laps.
On the surface, that makes perfect sense. After all, there were times early in each round that there were few to no cars on the track. But some drivers did go ahead and go out early in the session, and it didn’t really do them any good. Denny Hamlin went out early in the first round, and nobody followed him. As a result, he posted the slowest time among the 23 cars in the first group. I doubt he really had the slowest car of those 23.
And then there was Stewart. Stewart and Reed Sorenson went out together early during the second group’s five minutes in round one. Nobody else went out with them, and Stewart wound up needing a champion’s provisional to get in, while Sorenson, at one time, was thought to be out.
Looking at those results, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as the debacle being chalked up to drivers being at fault because they waited too long. After the fact, Harvick said that the qualifying session was the dumbest thing he’d ever seen. I’m not sure that I’d quite go that far, but I wouldn’t consider it a success by any means, either.
The reasoning for the shortened sessions was to eliminate all the time of non-activity that occurred during qualifying the last time the circuit visited Talladega. But maybe Saturday’s qualifying session made that first 2014 session at the track not look so bad.
So, what’s the answer for Talladega qualifying? Answers tossed about after qualifying Saturday included going back to old single-car qualifying and heat races. Unless teams are allowed an additional engine, and then throw in the possibility of a lot of teams needing to unload back-up cars between qualifying and the race, I’m not sure that’s the best idea, either.
Those single-car qualifying sessions at Talladega seem to take forever, but maybe NASCAR, fans, competitiors, etc., need to just bite the bullet and go back to that for superspeedways. I’m all for this new qualifying session at the other tracks on the circuit, but at Talladega? Not so much.
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