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Crew chiefs applaud qualifying changes

March 12, 2014, Staff report,

Qualifying modifications go into effect this weekend at Bristol

RELATED: Read about the new changes

Some crew chiefs are breathing a sigh of relief, knowing they won't have to worry about fast and slow cars on the track together during what promises to be a crowded NASCAR Sprint Cup Series group qualifying session Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

NASCAR on Tuesday made changes to its group qualifying procedure, banning the cool-down laps many teams had been using to try and cool their engines before making another pole run in the session. That practice had led to full-speed cars buzzing by other vehicles that were coasting at the bottom of the race track, a situation some drivers cited as a safety hazard during the first two weeks group qualifying has been used at NASCAR's highest level.

Now cool-down laps are no longer allowed, and NASCAR will grant the use of a cool-down unit -- connected through either the left or right side of the hood, which must remain closed -- beginning this weekend at Bristol, the first short track to host the group qualifying format. Matt Puccia, crew chief for Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle, is among those happy to see the change.

"It's something I really wanted to see happen, because I don't think you're going to have the problem of cars running up in front of you when you're trying to do your fast lap," Puccia said. "The chances of somebody running up in front of you when they're out there doing their mock run is a lot less than somebody running up in front of you just trying to cool their engine down. That's been a concern. You're out there trying to run your qualifying lap, and there are guys out there trying to cool their car down on the bottom of the race track. It's less likely for that to happen now. You can go out there and do your business, and it's less likely you have to worry about somebody cutting you off. There's still a chance it could happen, but it's just far less now."

Puccia said teams will link the cool-down units to the cars by running hoses to quick-disconnect hookups through the cowl flap doors. Plugging in generators will not be allowed, and two crewmen will be permitted over the wall to support the car and driver. The modifications apply to all three national series, as well as all parts of group qualifying including the breaks between sessions.

"I think as a whole, the addition of the cool-down units to allow the teams to cool down and make proper on-track qualifying efforts is a step in the right direction," said Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, a Coors Light Pole Award winner last week at Las Vegas. "I think NASCAR did a good job in reacting to what they saw. The new qualifying format is a really cool format, and it brings a lot more action and suspense to qualifying. By allowing the cool-down units, now we give teams the opportunity to make multiple attempts at qualifying efforts, and I think it will actually put more on-track activity of trying to bump cars off, instead of spending the time trying to cool yourself back down."

Puccia said that at Las Vegas, cars making qualifying runs at 180 mph were blowing past other vehicles cooling their engines at 30 mph at the bottom of the track. "It became a safety issue, and NASCAR did a good job reacting to it," he said. "I think the new qualifying format offers a lot of excitement, and this is just a little bit of tweaking they're doing. I'm sure there will still be more tweaking as it goes, and we learn more about what we’ve got to do."

The prospect of fast and slow cars mixing on a half-mile track like Bristol didn't sit well with some. "You've heard the old adage that Bristol is like flying fighter jets in a gymnasium, so there's not a lot of room and time for reaction," Gordon said. "It will be good not to have people that aren’t at race speed on there this weekend."


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