No. 48 team strategy will 'evolve every week'
February 04, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Championship-winning crew chief Chad Knaus is ready to put NASCAR's new qualifying format into action, and the sooner the better.
"It's going to be interesting," Knaus, crew chief for Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson, said. "I'm ready to try it. Hell, let's do it in Daytona."
The starting lineup for this month's season-opening Daytona 500 won't be determined by the multiple-round system -- relying instead on single-car runs and the Budweiser Duel (qualifying races) to set the 43-car field.
NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams will use the new format at Daytona, however, while Cup teams will get their first opportunity when the series travels to Phoenix a week after the 500.
"It could be fun, it's got some unique opportunities," Knaus said of the program that will consist of timed sessions with multiple cars on the track at the same time. "At different race tracks, strategy is going to be a little bit different."
Coors Light Pole Award qualifying will consist of three rounds at tracks 1.25 miles in length or longer and two rounds at those measuring less than 1.25 miles.
Under the three-round format, only the fastest 24 from the opening 25-minute round advance; the fastest 12 from the 10-minute second round advance and the final five-minute round will determine the Coors Light Pole Award winner.
The two-round format will feature a longer opening segment (30 minutes), with 12 drivers advancing into the final round.
Traffic, never an issue during qualifying for teams prior to this season, could play a significant role in determining the starting lineup at some of the smaller venues.
"I think we're going to have some guys upset at one another for sure," said Knaus. "It's a lot different than … like at the road course, it would work much better. Getting (a full field) on the track at Martinsville for a 30-minute session -- to try to get a clean lap -- you're going to have some people upset just because there's no place to hide.
"Somebody will do something intentionally at some point in time, sure, but even if you're not, there's no place to hide at places like Bristol, Martinsville or Dover. It's going to be tough."
How important is starting position? While less than one-third of the race winners in 2012 and '13 started inside the top five, more than half qualified inside the top 10. And only six race winners have come from outside the top 20 since '12.
Johnson, a six-time Sprint Cup champion, has more wins (60) in the past 10 years than any other active driver, and not surprisingly the best average starting position (10.28).
With the new format, strategy and planning will "evolve every week," Knaus said. "Every track is different. For instance, at Las Vegas, your tires are good for about one lap. One fast lap, one really good lap. So you're really going to have to start to hit it that first lap.
"At a track like Phoenix you can go out there and you can run five laps and your fifth lap can be your fastest lap. You just don't know yet what's going to happen.
"You don't know how to set up for it yet until we get in the middle of it."