Pemberton: 'Too early' for any qualifying tweaks
March 08, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
NASCAR VP says sanctioning body is listening to drivers' concerns
LAS VEGAS -- NASCAR officials say they don't expect to make any changes to the new qualifying process before NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams arrive in Bristol next week for the Food City 500 race weekend.
Several drivers expressed concerns about close calls with slower cars idling around on the apron to cool their engines during Friday's qualifying here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It was the first time the three-segment format had been used on a 1.5-mile track as the field was set for Sunday's Kobalt 400.
Because teams aren't allowed to cool their engines through mechanical means while qualifying is taking place, they return to the track after making a qualifying attempt at a reduced speed to force air through the front of the car.
"We're going to sit for a while, field all the questions and see what happens," Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition and racing development, said Saturday morning. "It's a very small snapshot of qualifying so far."
Pemberton said officials had spoken with drivers that voiced concerns about the process. "We're listening," he said. "We told them it's too early to tell (if tweaks are necessary).
"Other than the cars running around on the bottom and you had one or two complain that it was a close call … again, we're listening to them, but we want to take a better snapshot of it."
Under the new "knockout" qualifying format, all teams have 25 minutes to make one or more qualifying attempts. On tracks greater than 1.25 miles, the fastest 24 advance to a 10-minute second round, and the fastest 12 from that round advance to a third and final round of five minutes.
On tracks less than 1.25 miles, only two segments are used to determine the starting lineup -- all cars in the first round (which lasts 30 minutes), with the fastest 12 advancing to the final 10-minute session.
There is a five-minute break between each round and teams are only allowed to make minor changes to the cars in between rounds.
"Next weekend (at Bristol) is going to be crazy," said Team Penske driver Joey Logano, who will start on the pole at Las Vegas. "At least this weekend we've got the apron, so we can run the apron all the way around here to cool them off. But next weekend we really don't. You've got a half-mile track and you're going to have all these cars out there at the same time."
Teams begin qualifying with the front of their cars taped up to create additional downforce. After making their initial run, they return to pit road to remove the tape in an effort to help cool the engine.
The closest incident Friday came when Logano nearly got into the slowing entry of Marcos Ambrose during the first qualifying segment. But, as Pemberton noted, Ambrose slowed quickly in front of Logano due to a water leak.
"It had nothing to do with a car (riding around on the bottom)," he said.
Pemberton said the delay in allowing Kasey Kahne's Hendrick Motorsports team to change a flat tire during qualifying was a result of the qualifying rules in place under the new format.
Kahne's team was not allowed to change the flat, which occurred as he was cooling his car's engine, until the completion of the round because he had already posted an official time during the segment.
"You can only change a flat tire during the break," Pemberton said. "It depends on whether you get laps on the board or not."
If a team has a flat before posting an official time, officials will allow the team to replace the tire at that time. Once a time had been recorded, teams can only make the change during the next break in between rounds.
"Everybody's working through this stuff," Pemberton said. "There's a lot that's new, new to our officials, new to the race teams. Anytime there is a question, officials are told to call the tower (for confirmation)."