This past weekend, NASCAR fans got their first taste of the new Formula 1-style “knockout” qualifying. Technically, the Nationwide Series qualified under the new format the previous weekend at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, but rain abbreviated that session to one round; therefore, we didn’t get a complete taste of this new procedure.
This upcoming weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, we’ll see the three-round format to be utilized at larger tracks for the first time. But now that we’ve seen full qualifying sessions, at least for shorter tracks, what do you think?
I think Nationwide Series qualifying on Saturday produced the type of action NASCAR actually had in mind when it opted to go with this sort of qualifying format. Sprint Cup Series qualifying on Friday, though? Not so much.
When you get right down to it, Sprint Cup qualifying at Phoenix wasn’t all that overly exciting. The Penske cars went out early in the session and posted the fastest speed, and near the end, there was some shuffling around the bottom of the top-12 to get those last couple or so advancement spots. But there sure was a lot of down time in the middle of that first 30 second round. What cars were on the track in the middle of the round looked like they were on some leisurely cruise as they drove around trying to cool their engines for a second run at the end. What’s so exciting about that?
There were cars doing the same in Nationwide qualifying, but for whatever reason, there were also cars making their timed runs, so at least there was something to watch, there.
During the TV broadcast of Sprint Cup qualifying, the idea was thrown around that maybe NASCAR should allow engine coolers on pit road during qualifying to prevent the leisurely stroll around the track in the middle of qualifying. Would that move produced the desired result, though, or would there be an unintended, at least by NASCAR, intermission in the middle of qualifying while all cars are sitting on pit road, having their engines cooled. Maybe; maybe not.
I’m not sure what the solution is to what we saw on Friday. Maybe permission to use engine coolers is the answer. I don’t know. Maybe we need to give it a few weeks to, hopefully, get better. I guess it’s a work in progress. Well, at least for now, Nationwide qualifying is providing some excitement.