Cooling issues in qualifying concern drivers
March 07, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
LAS VEGAS -- NASCAR’s first three-round qualifying session for its Sprint Cup Series was as intense as everyone expected.
It was also a bit more dangerous than anticipated.
The format for Coors Light Pole Award qualifying Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway consisted of three rounds, with all cars making laps during the opening 25-minute session. After a five-minute break, the fastest 24 advanced to round No. 2 for a 10-minute session; the fastest 12 then advanced to the third and final five-minute round following another five-minute break.
Because teams aren’t allow to cool their cars’ engines between runs, drivers would often run around on the apron of the track at a reduced speed between qualifying attempts. At the same time, others were at full speed attempting to post a fast enough lap to guarantee they would advance.
"I’m not used to this," Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer said after qualifying third for Sunday’s Kobalt 500. "Our normal deal is to be scared once a weekend -- three times is a lot to ask out of us."
Twenty-four drivers eclipsed the previous track qualifying record of 190.456 mph set in 2012 by Kasey Kahne.
"It’s exciting, especially once you get down to the end and you’re in the game and you’ve got a shot at it," Bowyer said. "Not a huge fan of the cool down deal. I really hope NASCAR looks at that."
Bowyer said he almost hit points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. at one point "and that would be bad for business."
Logano also had a close call, nearly collecting the slower entry of Marcos Ambrose during the opening round.
"I may have touched him. It was really close," Logano said.
Teams use cooling systems during practice to cool their cars’ engines, and Logano said with some minor alterations, the same technology could be used during qualifying.
"All you’ve really got to do is put an adapter that hooks to where your cool-down (unit) would go now, which is under the hood," he said. "Just basically run a couple of lines up to the hood flap and you can just plug and play. It’s a pretty cheap fix. …
"We have to run through a couple of qualifying sessions to understand what we need to do and make sure we don’t make a rule and then regret it later. We’ve got to make sure we’re methodical about it and do the right things."
Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson said the slower cars on the track aren’t the only issue that should be addressed. From pit road speeds, which aren’t strictly enforced, to how the cars are staged on pit road is also problematic.
"They told us that (running) around pit road speed would be appreciated," said Johnson, who will start fifth on Sunday. "So that leaves a wide variety of interpretation. And I get it. They don’t want to set some hard rules in place, but unfortunately we probably need to.
"… I think we’re going to start crashing cars just backing out because you’ve got guys at various angles trying to back out and guys backing out before the clock strikes zero (to end the session). … There are a variety of things going on. We need to clean it up a little.
"I think the format is awesome. It’s great for the fans, it’s great for the teams; but some of the logistics and flow on pit road could be addressed."
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon said he hoped fans were able to follow all the different battles and challenges the teams were facing as the qualifying session wore on, “because there are a lot of interesting storylines.
"To see the times juggling around the way they were, that’s what we expected this new format to be like," he said.
The issues on the track and pit road, he said, will be addressed.
"I think we all will collaborate on it, express our thoughts and ideas (and) work with NASCAR. I think they know that it’s something that’s going to be a learning situation for all of us. I think there’s only room for improvement, which is good. Today was pretty good in my opinion."
Kahne suffered a flat tire while trying to cool his engine and "you can’t change it until NASCAR says you can change it," he said.
"And they didn’t let us change it for a long time. … It’s crazy; it’s intense over there. They need to step up their side also because all the teams are on pins and needles down here."
That intensity, he said, affects the team and the driver.
"You see it when we’re out there cooling off and another guy goes by you at 190 mph; one mistake, a blown tire … it could get ugly," he said. "It’s intense.
"All the teams are doing a great job to pull this off and make it work, trying to cool your stuff down. There’s a lot that goes into this deal and … everybody needs to do a good job."