News & Media

Qualifying had unusual amount of drama

September 24, 2011, Dave Rodman,

LOUDON, N.H. -- Mist had some questioning who makes decision to qualify: driver or NASCAR?

Brian Vickers, faced with the prospect of starting on the pole or third for Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, only shrugged when asked about getting bumped out of the top spot by Red Bull Racing teammate Kasey Kahne.

"It would have been an especially good moment to get [a pole]," said Vickers, who was knocked down one more spot by pole-winner Ryan Newman. "But I think a top-three is still a great moment. With everything going on with the team, I'm really proud of the guys for showing up to the race track and putting their best foot forward.

Rain man

After a minor rain delay left five drivers unqualified, Ryan Newman was the final driver to go out and on his first lap he grabbed his second consecutive Loudon pole.

"And the fact that we're in the top-three, I think speaks volumes about everything going on. Ultimately, for myself and everyone involved with the team, the best thing we can do is just go run good. And next year will take care of itself."

Vickers' even-keeled mood was in sharp contrast to Juan Montoya's. Montoya was fifth-best in the day's only Sprint Cup practice but he ended up 31st on the grid when rain interrupted qualifying, not once, but twice. Montoya was the first car out, of the five left in line at the first resumption.

"Our car was fast enough to sit on the pole, and we're 27th," Montoya said immediately after his run. "It's a freaking joke."

After Paul Menard slipped and slid his way to 14th on the grid, Montoya had refused to take the track as the qualifying session became contentious. Menard supported that opinion.

"It wasn't that bad -- if we would have gone right after [Clint Bowyer] it probably would have been fine, but we sat for a couple of minutes so the first lap, there wasn't any grip," Menard said. "The second lap felt a lot better obviously, but the track was just a little bit too wet. I probably should have held just a little bit longer."

As raindrops fell, some drivers preferred to run while others -- with good starting spots locked-in if the session rained-out -- did not. Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet sat in line behind Montoya.

"Send out the No. 48, if he's so brave," Montoya said at the time. Later, after NASCAR deployed jet dryers to dry the race track, it was apparently Montoya's decision to take to the track. Obviously he regretted it.

"Once the track was dry and ready for racing and that had been communicated to the driver and his team," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "The driver then had the option of whether or not he was ready to put down his qualifying lap."

Johnson went after Montoya and didn't even stay up to speed for half a lap before he returned to pit road He reported moisture in Turn 2. After a brief hold, he went back out and ran the seventh-best lap, which ended up 10th.

Johnson's comments mostly supported NASCAR but his details seemed to prove Montoya's decision, while a gamer's, was a bad one.

"We were all pretty much convinced that it was wet down there," Johnson said. "When you have one car on the race track, you can't keep the track dry and if you looked underneath the race cars that were sitting there parked [on pit road], it was dry under the cars and wet around it. You could see standing water on top of all the race cars and that standing water is sitting on top of the race track.

"I commend NASCAR for listening to the drivers and giving us a good, dry surface to go out on. My car was still slipping and sliding pretty bad there, but we got a decent lap in and NASCAR put a huge effort in to make sure those last five cars had an even playing ground to go out on.

"I've always wondered what would happen if the drivers didn't think the track was dry enough. And I learned a lot through this process [Friday]. I don't think it's ideal circumstances for anyone, but I think NASCAR did their best job to give us drivers what we were looking for in a dry race track. It's still slick. That's just kind of how it is. But the effort was made. And although I hate that my car was that sideways, I really appreciate their effort."

Jeff Gordon went next, and qualified seventh. Kahne and Newman were the last two drivers to qualify as the track appeared to get progressively better.

"I wasn't expecting the pole to come there in those final six cars," Gordon said. "The track was obviously better than we anticipated. I think the track conditions weren't that bad. I still wouldn't have wanted to have been Juan -- I hated it for him."

Kahne was another who supported NASCAR.

"The conditions were tough [and] NASCAR did a good job just trying to make it the best they could for everybody."


"I think there's some situations where driver input is key," Kahne said. "If you were to take off and go into Turn 3 and it's raining down there then you should be able to turn in [to the pits]. That's the way I've understood it. I think that's about as far as it needs to go. Other than that I think NASCAR decides. It shouldn't be up to any one of us as to whether we pull off pit road or not -- it's up to [NASCAR]."

In the end, Vickers was still smiling, which is typical for him. With the future of Red Bull Racing -- and with it Vickers, who has driven the past five seasons for the team owned by the Austrian energy drink company -- hanging in doubt, every positive note for Vickers is big, and they've been few and far between this season.

But starting third, instead of the 17th position Vickers' No. 83 Toyota would've occupied if qualifying hadn't been completed, was another story altogether.

"It's significantly better [to be starting third]," Vickers said. "Track position is so important here, so a third-place start is fantastic."

So much for Vickers the strategist; Vickers the racer would've liked to have seen the session completed without interruption, and he probably wasn't the only one.

"The conditions were tough [and] NASCAR did a good job just trying to make it the best they could for everybody," Vickers said. "I'd liked to have seen it play out just running straight through. Obviously with all the clouds coming over and the light drizzle the track was a good bit cooler there at the end than it was when we went. It is what it is. Either way, we still ended up better than we would have [but] I would have liked to have seen our lap hold if we were heads-up in the same conditions."

Newman said the situation might've been a wash, so to speak.

"I think because of the conditions -- it was cloudy all day [and] the track dryers probably put a little bit of heat back into the race track that the rain kind of washed out," Newman said. "So I think it all kind of averaged out. I was really proud of our guys to go through something like that and still be able to capitalize on it."

Newman has 49 career poles, including six at New Hampshire in 20 races, but this one had something new, even for him.

"I don't think I've seen that much drama go into the last five cars in qualifying in my 10 or 11 years experience -- just to have the little situation we did with the rain, the drizzle," Newman said. "It is a tough situation. I was thinking about it when I was in the car. On one hand you're thinking, 'well, the other guys had sprinkle, some of them did, some of them didn't,' but in the end you were supposed to have dry track conditions or at least it not be raining when we go out on the race track.

"So I understand where Jimmie came from when he pulled in. My track was dry. I don't know that it was any faster to answer that question. I think we picked up about the same amount of speed as the other guys did earlier in qualifying."