Jarrett: New qualifying process 'pretty cool'
January 24, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett says qualifying is still an important part of the sport, and believes the new format unveiled by the sanctioning body Jan. 22 will help rekindle interest in the process of determining the starting lineup.
"I think it's pretty cool," Jarrett, one of this year's five NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees, said during a stop at the Hall on Thursday. "It will be pretty interesting the first few times to watch it all unfold. I understand the concept, and had talked to NASCAR (officials) last year about it. Something needed to be done to make it a little more exciting and I think this will do that."
The change, which will be in effect for the majority of this year's Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series events, will feature timed rounds with a predetermined number of those posting the fastest laps advancing. At tracks 1.25 miles in length or greater, the format will consist of three rounds; at those less than 1.25 miles, two rounds will be used to determine the lineup.
From 2001 through this past season, NASCAR's qualifying format consisted of single-entry, timed laps at the majority of its venues.
Prior to 2001, NASCAR events often featured two rounds of qualifying, but under a different format. The quickest 25 on the opening day locked in their spots, while those outside the top 25 could either stand on their first time or choose to re-qualify a day later.
Jarrett, the 1999 Cup champion and currently a booth analyst for ESPN's NASCAR coverage, said he remembers the former format as well as the pressure that came with it.
"Guys today don't understand what that second-round qualifying was about, just everything that went into that," he said. "What were you going to do and just how stressful that was. You couldn't even begin to think about the race until you had made the race, and then deciding if you were going to have to run second round qualifying and all that.
"I think the interesting part (now) will be how the teams and drivers embrace it and how much they put into it. I think we will see a whole different mindset with qualifying and making speed out of your cars."
Although NASCAR doesn't award points to drivers who qualify on the pole, there are benefits to posting a fast qualifying lap. Not only does the pole winner start the race free and clear of traffic, but pit stall selection can have a significant impact on race day. The widths and lengths of pit roads at the various tracks differ, as do the sizes of the pit boxes. Openings to the garage area can provide easy access out of one pit box, and easy access into another.
"I think (qualifying) is still important, because of the level of competition today," Jarrett said. "The confidence of getting your weekend started off right, that's always been important. And as competitive as things have become, picking where you want to be on pit road, where you feel comfortable as a driver and where the crew chief feels good, that goes into it as much as anything, and that's still going to be determined by how you qualify.
"If you have a poor effort and that box is narrowed down to just a few choices, it makes your weekend more difficult on top of the fact that you realize your car is not as fast as you want it to be."
Pit stall selection isn't done until after qualifying has been completed, and the order of selection is based on those results (from fastest to slowest).
In his career, Jarrett won 32 races in Cup and 16 poles. He also finished sixth or higher in points from 1982 through 1987 and won 11 times in what is now known as the Nationwide Series.
He is part of a 2014 NASCAR Hall of Fame class that also includes Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, Maurice Petty, Jack Ingram and Tim Flock. The five will be inducted into the Hall on Jan. 29.
Ned Jarrett, Dale's father and a two-time NASCAR champion in Cup, was inducted into the Hall in 2011.