O’Donnell: NASCAR mulls return to single-car qualifying at some tracks

NASCAR’s top competition official said Monday that the sanctioning body is exploring a return to single-car qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at certain tracks.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, made the remarks as part of his regular Monday morning appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. His comments came after a muddled qualifying session Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.

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“The optics of what’s taking place with the teams is not tenable for us with the fans, so we’re going to look at every option, including the possibility of going to single-car qualifying,” O’Donnell told SiriusXM. “The reason we haven’t is that’s on the teams. That’s parts and pieces. We’ve tried to be as efficient as possible going to this method for qualifying, but we’re definitely going to look at it and see what we can do. We’ve got a couple of weeks to do that, but we’ll make adjustments if needed.”

NASCAR introduced group qualifying for its national series on every track ahead of the 2014 season; road-course group qualifying debuted the previous year. Previously, qualifying was conducted in single-car, single-round sessions against the clock.

The advent of a new higher-downforce, lower-horsepower rules package for NASCAR’s top series this season has placed a premium on the aerodynamic draft at intermediate-sized tracks. That’s led to gamesmanship in Busch Pole Qualifying, with teams attempting to funnel off pit road all at once, jockeying for parking spots and the best aero positioning.

NASCAR officials put harsher penalties in place last week to deter teams from waiting until the waning moments of qualifying rounds to make their attempts. Teams still pushed the limits of the qualifying session, leading to logjams and blocking at the pit-road exit.

“I think it’s ridiculous, candidly,” O’Donnell said. “I mean, I know the drivers did not like this qualifying that we were going to do before the season, so part of you says, ‘Are we doing this on purpose to get rid of it?,’ but I know it can be done. I know we have the best drivers in the world who can figure it out and the crew chiefs, but we seem to want to outdo each other, and that results in sitting on pit road, so again that’ll have to be on us.

“We’ll react to it. We’ll make the right call and we’ll get it right. We don’t want to see cars sitting on pit road for eight minutes. That’s not NASCAR racing, and we’ll make the fix there.”

Such a move would not be unprecedented. Competition officials reverted to single-car qualifying runs at superspeedways in Daytona and Talladega in March 2015 as a safety measure.

The next Monster Energy Series race with the same qualifying format and rules — 550 target horsepower, plus ducts as part of the aero package — as last weekend’s event at Texas is scheduled May 11 at Kansas Speedway.