NASCAR's Rolex contingent endorses new qualifying
January 24, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
RELATED: More on the changes | Official release | Changes 101 | Reaction | Tracks pleased
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There was plenty of buzz in the Daytona International Speedway garage Friday morning, and it wasn't limited to the huge turnout and high expectations for the Rolex 24 At Daytona or the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
Even as the three-driver NASCAR Sprint Cup Series contingent here was preparing for a weekend of sports car racing in the traditional Daytona Speedweeks opener, they were enthusiastically discussing this week's change to NASCAR qualifying.
"I think it's really cool because the qualifying will be exciting for the drivers and the fans," said 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray, who will compete in the Rolex 24 At Daytona for his Sprint Cup team owner, Chip Ganassi. "I haven't heard one guy say anything negative about it."
The new format -- announced Wednesday -- will incorporate group qualifying sessions with an elimination-style concept. At tracks 1.25 miles or longer, all entrants will have 25 minutes to put up a fast lap. The quickest 24 cars will move onto the next round, which will be 10 minutes long. The fastest 12 from that session will move onto a five-minute final round with the front of the grid set from there. There will be five minutes between each round for adjustments, but teams can't put the cars/trucks on jacks or open the hoods.
On tracks less than 1.25 miles in length, there will be a 30-minute opening session for the field with the fastest 12 moving on to a final 10-minute round.
The traditional Daytona 500 qualifying format will remain the same as will qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series dirt track race at Eldora Speedway.
"With this new format, I think it's really cool because you get a lot of cars on the race track which is what qualifying needs to keep the fans excited," said AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet. "One car on track just doesn't do it, and it's not just that way for NASCAR. When Formula One tried it, it was bad, same with IndyCar, it doesn’t matter.
"This way leaves the suspense. You don't know until the last second who's going to move on, who's on pole. I'm a huge fan of it."
And, he added, it creates a more even playing field.
"The biggest thing for me is that it eliminate conditions," Allmendinger said. "You can't say, 'oh, I drew first, I'm at a disadvantage.' Now it’s your own doing. Go out when you want and go get your lap. Maybe you don't hit the lap you want, but it's still just good enough (that) you get to move on and maybe you hit it next time."
"It's all about trying to keep it exciting for the fans, exciting for the teams."
McMurray's Ganassi teammate, Cup rookie Kyle Larson, conceded he doesn’t know any different. In fact, he thinks the group style may benefit him.
"It may give me a better chance at qualifying actually," said Larson, who will drive the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Ganassi. "For me, I do the single car stuff and I don't have anyone to judge off of. In all the racing I've done, any time I've done group qualifying, I've done better so that's exciting for me. It seemed like whenever there was the group (format), I’d have that person in front of me to chase and it seemed to help."
All three drivers seemed to like the idea of the extra element of suspense the new format creates, but also the additional strategy it will force teams to use.
"When I first heard of this all I could think about was how many times someone has pulled out in front of you at practice, not on purpose but on accident and ruined your lap or you've done that to someone else," McMurray said.
"Sometimes when you've pulled out in front of someone when you're going down the backstretch, typically you'll get out their way because you know you've blocked their lap. But now if it's qualifying, you can't (pull out of the way), you just have to go.
"So I think there will be some tensions sometimes between teams and spotters. I think there will be a story sometime before a race."
On a larger scale, Allmendinger, Larson and McMurray expressed support for NASCAR’s willingness to mix things up in the name of competition and a better show for fans.
"All of us as a group want to make things better," McMurray said. "I think we're all more open-minded that we were even 10 years ago to try things that we think will make it better.
"It's okay to make things more exciting."