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NASCAR tweaks, cools off Qualifying procedure

March 11, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Cooling units allowed for all three series; cool-down laps banned

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NASCAR will allow the use of external cool-down units to help cool engines during qualifying in all three of its national series, beginning with this weekend’s doubleheader at Bristol Motor Speedway.
 
Teams in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were notified of the changes Tuesday afternoon.

Cooling-down laps, used previously this season to speed up the process of lowering the temperature of the car's engine, will no longer be permitted.
 
The specific changes are:
 
• The use of one (1) cool-down unit per car, connected through either the left- or right-side hood flap/cowl;
 
• Two crew members may enter the pit area for car and driver support;
 
• Cool-down laps are no longer allowed;
 
Unchanged, but still enforced, will be the following regulations:
 
• The hood must remain closed at all times;
 
• Plugging the car in to an external source (generator) will still not be allowed.

NASCAR officials said this past weekend that they wanted to give teams more time to work through some of the issues before making any tweaks to the format.
 
But Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition and racing development for the sanctioning body, said Tuesday that "we got some pretty good feedback over the course of the weekend, as people got a chance to download with us."

Cooling issues have been a hot topic surrounding the new qualifying format, which debuted earlier this year.
 
During qualifying runs, teams tape up the front grille of their cars to create more downforce. Because the tape limits the amount of air reaching the engine, teams remove the tape after their initial run. Drivers then return to the track and run at a much slower speed to force air into the engine compartment to assist with the cooling.
 
That strategy has led several drivers to describe the new format as dangerous, as cars at full speed have dramatically closed on slower cars in some instances.
 
"It’s not safe," Richard Childress Racing driver Ryan Newman said after last week’s qualifying session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "That’s an easy answer; it’s not safe."
 
With the series moving to BMS, a short, .533-mile venue for this weekend’s events, such concerns were amplified.
 
"You've got a half-mile race track and you're going to have all these cars out there," said Joey Logano, last week's Coors Light Pole winner at Las Vegas. "… That's going to be tight."

According to Pemberton, the timing of the move wasn’t forced by this week’s race locale.
 
"I think it was pretty much about the complexities of going coast-to-coast," he said. "Between (returning from) Las Vegas and Bristol, then back to Auto Club Speedway (in Fontana, Calif.), the feeling was we need to get something out there for the teams … so they could better prepare. We felt like sooner than later was better."
 
NASCAR officials will police the use of the cool-down units, which may be used throughout the entire qualifying session.
 
"It’s just something we’ll have to do, that’s all," Pemberton said. "It’s just another part of being at the track."
 
While some have said prohibiting teams from taping up the front grille before qualifying would solve the problem, others weren’t so sure.
 
Paul Wolfe, crew chief of the Team Penske No. 2 Ford with driver Brad Keselowski, said during a Tuesday morning teleconference that safety seemed to be the bigger issue.
 
"I think guys are concerned about maybe the safety aspect of the cars obviously running around slow on the race track while others are at speed," Wolfe said. "I know at this point from what I've heard that's probably the biggest concern. I know guys would like to see cool‑down machines being able to be used. That just introduces a whole other thing when you start bringing cool‑down machines out to pit road."
 
Keselowski won both the Nationwide and Cup Series races this past weekend at Las Vegas. He and teammate Logano have swept the front row starting spots in the last two Cup races, at Phoenix International Raceway and LVMS.
 
"As far as the 2 car over the last two weeks, there's only one instance really where we needed to go out and cool down," said Wolfe. "I think it's those guys that are right on the edge that need to make multiple runs."
 
NASCAR moved to group qualifying this season after years of using single-car runs to determine the starting lineup for its races.
 
The new format consists of three rounds at tracks greater than 1.25 miles in length and two rounds for those less than 1.25 miles.
 
On the larger tracks, all teams have 25 minutes to post a qualifying time in the opening segment. The fastest 24 then advance to a second round (which lasts 10 minutes), with the fastest 12 advancing to a third and final round of five minutes in length.
 
Only two sessions are used to determine the lineup on tracks less than 1.25 miles in length – a 30-minute opening session for all competitors with the fastest 12 advancing to a final 10-minute session.
 
NASCAR officials said this past weekend that they wanted to give teams more time to work through some of the issues before making any tweaks to the format.
 
Qualifying for the Food City 500 race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is scheduled for Friday, March 14 (4:40 p.m. ET) at BMS while qualifying for the Nationwide Series' Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 is set for Saturday (10:10 a.m. ET).
 
The Camping World Truck Series will be back in action Saturday, March 29 at Martinsville Speedway.

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