The 2014 season brought with it a brand new style of racing thanks to a couple of major off-season changes by NASCAR. The first change was to the format of how NASCAR is going to determine a champion. The second change and the one that is currently under fire, is the switch from single car qualifying to the new knockout qualifying system.
Under the old system cars would be allowed two laps around the track by themselves, the fastest posted lap received the pole position. This single car method of qualifying was not only boring but it also took forever. The new system involves all of the cars taking the track at once for a set amount of time. After that amount of time is up the faster cars move to the next round of qualifying.The slower cars are then considered to be done qualifying and awarded the lower starting spots according to their fastest lap posted.
The new system is far more exciting and fun to watch as compared to the old. NASCAR has essentially turned qualifying into a mini race. Although the fans love the new system, some of the drivers feel it’s dangerous.
Despite the fact that all 43 cars are on the track at once, none of them are really out there racing one another. Instead each car is trying to turn in the fastest lap time possible because that it what sets the field, not where you are on the track. The danger comes into play because the drivers can only push the car so much before needing to pull back and cool the engine. NASCAR does not allow cars to stop on pit road during qualifying so the only way a driver can cool its engine is to dramatically reduce speed and ride along the bottom of the track.
What this produces is a handful of cars coasting around the bottom of the track at very low speeds while the rest of the field is still on the track going max speed. In most cases the difference in speeds is over 100 MPH. If there were to ever be a collision between two cars with the great of a speed differential, the result could be horrific.
Brian Vickers shared his thoughts about the dangers of the new system.
Riding around the bottom – we’ve got to do it, it’s the only way to keep the engine cool – but that has got to be the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done in racing. Sorenson went by me at 170 mph faster than I was going. Had he slipped or hit me, I’d be done. It would be so bad.
Clint Bowyer shared his thoughts after almost colliding with Dale Earnhardt Jr. during qualifying at Las Vegas for the Kobalt 400. Earnhardt was cooling his engine whilst Bowyer was still running at full speed.
We’ve got to stop that, I about smoked him. That’s not the guy you want to hit at a 140 mph deficit. A collision is going to hurt me and it might hurt Dale Jr., and that would be bad for business.
Some drivers have expressed their concerns to NASCAR. NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp addressed the situation when speaking with USA Today.
We’re only two race weekends in with the new qualifying format. It’s something new and it’s something that will take time to get used to. We will continue to look at it.
NASCAR doesn’t want the cars on pit road during qualifying because it would be difficult to police all 43 cars. Teams are not allowed to adjust their cars during qualifying. Thus far there haven’t been any accidents during qualifying. For the sake of NASCAR and the drivers let’s hope that it doesn’t require an accident before a change is made.
Source: Jeff Gluck, USA Today Sports