Lapped cars part of racing, but how much courtesy should they give?

Three cars in Saturday’s practice sessions were at least 1.5 seconds off the pace, meaning the leaders should reach them — and start lapping them — within the first 20 laps on Sunday in Phoenix.

It certainly won’t be the only time those cars are lapped, as drivers were reminded again last week at Las Vegas. Reed Sorenson, driving for Spire Motorsports, finished 15 laps down. Cody Shane Ware, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 14 laps down.

Both cars were running at the finish and were not involved in any incidents, meaning they simply had much slower cars than most of the field.

Sunday’s race will see more of the same, except on a smaller, narrower track than Vegas. The cars of Ware, RWR teammate Bayley Currey and Quin Houff (Spire) all look slow — with Currey and Houff making their first career Cup starts.

Lapped cars have caused some frustration that has bubbled up in different ways for contending drivers of late, and Phoenix might only increase that sentiment.

“Have you been listening to our radios the last couple weeks?” Aric Almirola joked.

First and foremost, drivers say they simply want lapped cars to be respectful and get out of the way — a command the flagman expresses at tracks all over the country via the “move over” flag.

NASCAR has a move over flag, but Almirola noted it’s not even necessary because the lapped cars all have spotters.

“You have a spotter telling you, ‘Hey, the leaders are catching you again and the guy that’s catching you has been running the bottom the last five laps.’ (So) give him that lane,” Almirola said. “I realize they’re here with just as much equal right to the racetrack, but it’s just a common courtesy…and those guys are multiple, multiple laps down and not really going to change their position one way or the other.”

William Byron said lapped cars need to look in their mirrors and see where the faster cars are running — “just like driving on the highway,” he said.

“Honestly, it’s not just enough to say ‘Run the bottom every time’ because I might be running the top at a certain racetrack, and if you come up and block that, you’re completely killing the run,” he said. “You’ve got to constantly adapt. … But you’ve got to be predictable.”

One problem is how the slower cars get out of the way is up for debate. Though Almirola and Byron want the lapped cars to be aware of the faster cars’ preference for top or bottom groove, Denny Hamlin said that could cause other issues.

“As long as a lapped car, especially one that is off the pace, decides that, ‘OK, everyone is going run below me,’ I think that’s fine,” Hamlin said. “It’s when you get the ones that actually have great intentions of letting (someone go by saying) ‘OK, this guy has been running here, I’ll let him have the bottom’ and ‘This guy has been running the top, let me move down’ – that’s where things kind of get bad.

“It ends up being a moving target and you don’t really know where they are. As long as they pick one side or the other and they want to let the field go, it’s good.”

Ryan Newman said he doesn’t care where the lapped cars go — as long as they get out of the way. But he also noted drivers in every form of racing have to deal with slower cars.

“At some point you’re going to be in the way and you just hope it doesn’t adversely affect somebody else’s race, but in the end, that’s part of it,” he said. “… Everybody has to work around those cars, whether it’s the first, second, third or 20th-place car. So how you use them or how they affect your race is a part of racing.”

But Alex Bowman said he takes a different view, having driven a slower car in the past during his days at Tommy Baldwin Racing. Bowman said he was “way more stressed out doing that stuff than I am today (driving for Hendrick Motorsports)” because drivers in the back are trying to balance staying out of the way with trying to get the best finish possible.

“Really all you can ask is for a guy to do the same thing every time so you at least know what to expect when you get there and do the same thing for everybody,” Bowman said. “Their job is honestly, technically, probably harder than our job. The race car is driving worse, so I don’t really think they get enough credit. They get talked crap about and kind of put down sometimes in situations that it’s really not completely their fault.”

Dammmmmmn, Daniel! Suarez, McDowell fight during Phoenix qualifying

Just when you thought this NASCAR season was off to a tame start, Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell spent part of their afternoon fighting on pit road.

On a Friday! During qualifying!

Have you ever seen a fight during qualifying before?

“I did today!” Martin Truex Jr. said. “Awesome!”

Drivers stopped in their tracks and stared at the screens around ISM Raceway while the replay was shown again and again: The images of Suarez walking with purpose and stepping over the pit road wall, McDowell issuing the first strike, Suarez getting the upper hand and slamming McDowell to the ground, crew chief Drew Blickensderfer shoving Suarez onto the hood — hand on the driver’s neck — and Suarez giving him a choke right back as McDowell pulled on his foe’s leg.

 

“At some point I’ve always wanted to bodyslam somebody,” Kevin Harvick said. “I don’t know what the circumstances were, but it sounded exciting.”

So what happened? Well, it all started with the No. 90 Xfinity Series car driven by Ronnie Bassett Jr.

Bassett’s engine blew at the end of Xfinity practice — which immediately preceded qualifying — and the clean-up job left all sorts of residue on the track.

“One of the ARCA cars blew up at the end of practice and oiled it all down, so nobody wanted to get on the track too soon,” Brad Keselowski said.

That meant most of the cars waited until the very end to roll out — which in turn caused there to be far too much traffic at once on a 1-mile track and prevented some drivers from getting a clean lap.

“When you have a bunch of knucklehead drivers sit out there and wait with four minutes left and 30 cars still haven’t run, that’s what you have,” David Ragan said.

McDowell and Suarez rolled off at the same time, and Suarez strongly felt McDowell impeded his laps — not just once, but twice. So on their way back to pit road, Suarez got in McDowell’s way as retaliation. (McDowell accused Suarez of trying to wreck him, which Suarez didn’t deny.)

“When you mess up somebody’s lap, I understand they’re frustrated,” McDowell said. “But when you try to hurt somebody and damage hundreds of thousands of dollars of race cars, that’s taking it to a whole other level.”

Suarez said he was mad about McDowell costing him a good starting spot, but even more upset about losing pit stall selection on a difficult pit road (stalls are chosen in order of how cars qualified).

He called the situation a lack of respect and said he wouldn’t stand for it.

“I’m the kind of driver that I’m going to give a lot of respect to you, always, if you give me respect back,” Suarez said. “If you don’t give me respect, I’m going to go kick your ass.”

Asked about his takedown of a taller driver (McDowell is listed as having five inches on Suarez), the ultra-athletic Suarez said, “I don’t care how big he is.”

He added: “I’m a very nice guy. I get along well with anyone. But if you play that way, I’m going to react that way.”

McDowell, for his part, said the entire thing was a one-off confrontation in the heat of the moment and had nothing to do with history or bad blood between them.

Both men were upset with the other, and they simply dealt with it.

“Don’t read too much into it,” McDowell said. “It’s emotions, man. It’s just the way it is.”


UPDATE (Saturday morning): McDowell and Suarez met with NASCAR in the series hauler on Saturday morning before practice, where they reassured officials they won’t set out to wreck each other in Sunday’s race.

Suarez said it was easy for him to make that pledge because it’s not his style to crash other drivers.

“I’m not the kind of guy who is going to wreck someone like that,” Suarez said. “I’m not going to use my car as a weapon. If someone has a problem with me, I prefer to do it in person. That’s exactly what I did (Friday).”

But McDowell’s entire reason for being upset was the “dangerous” move Suarez made to interfere with the No. 34 car’s lap as retaliation. McDowell said he expected Suarez to mess up the lap — it’s “protocol” to do so if the other driver does it first, McDowell said — but “what he did was pretty risky for both of us.”

A video shown on FS1 Saturday morning had McDowell’s car coming at full speed while Suarez makes a move back up the track at slow speed, which caused McDowell to jump on the brakes and go high, nearly hitting the wall.

McDowell said the drivers also spoke privately in the NASCAR hauler following their meeting with officials.

I just wanted to have a real conversation with him without all the people around to understand where we’re coming from,” McDowell said. “You’re in this sport a long time and you’re surrounded by people, and you have the opportunity to have good and bad relationships. You can determine that by how you handle conflict. So I just wanted to see where he was at.”

12 Questions with William Byron (2019)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?

I’m an iPhone person. I don’t think I’ve ever had an Android. I feel like it’s such an off-brand version of an iPhone; I just don’t think that’s very good. I think they’re slower. I guess there’s some benefits. But I’ve always had an iPhone.

2. If a fan meets you in the garage, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?

I feel like autographs are so generic. Either a picture or just (commenting on) a neat little tidbit about what you’re doing — something that shows they know about what’s going on. I feel like when I was a kid and I came to races, the only way I was really going to connect to a driver was if I knew some fact about them or knew what was going on with their weekend. So I think that’s important to a driver.

So you’d say something like, “Hey, I noticed you were whatever in practice yesterday,” when you see a driver?

Yeah, if you know more about the sport or what’s going on, I think that’s going to connect with somebody, personally, instead of just, “Hey!” Sometimes you hear things like, “Oh, that’s Alex — oh, no, that’s William.” And that’s like, “OK, you’re just looking for an autograph.” But the kids that you see and meet that are in tune with the sport, those are the ones I connect with.

3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?

It does. I think on the track, there’s like a survival instinct that comes into play — so even if there is something that kind of frustrates you or pisses you off, it doesn’t really stick with you. Because I’m trying to survive and get to the next thing. I don’t think it’s going to be beneficial for me to get hung up on that — unless it really did hurt me or really screw me over in that situation.

On the road, especially me, I’m just taking advantage of bad drivers — and it does get frustrating when there’s somebody in your way.

4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?

Not a whole lot. I’d say when I ran Legend cars, the closest thing I had to that was just going out with your HANS clips not clipped in. You start to get into the routine of having those clipped in and you see a lot of drivers do this (shakes head) to make sure. But yeah, it’s sketchy. I mean, there was one time I did that and came back in and I was a little bit caught off guard that I went out there without those. 

5. If your crew chief put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?

Not really. I want to know they’re doing everything it takes to make it go as fast as possible, and I trust what they put on the cars. So I think trust is a big thing with your crew chief or your team, knowing that the car they’re giving you is something fast and competitive. I wouldn’t really care unless it comes to like, “Hey, you know, we gotta crash something to…” (Laughs) Who knows? But no, I don’t really care.

6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?

As sick as I’ve gotten over the offseason with food poisoning a couple times, I would say sushi. I would not eat sushi. Even though I love it, but you just never know.

So you’re kind of staying away after some bad experiences?

Yeah, staying away from that for sure.

7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?

I don’t think so, because they can’t keep the cars on the ground with (no) gravity. Maybe you could, but I don’t know if being loose or tight would be the same for them. Honestly, I think it would be cool. I feel that they’d race, if you’re a Star Wars fan, you know they race those little things that are about a couple hundred feet off the ground, so those would be fun to race.

Like those pod things?

Yeah, I love those.

8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?

Nothing useful. Nothing. I hate that time, honestly. I don’t feel like it really suits my style of talking to somebody right before I go try to beat them. But I try to make off-subject comments like, “How was your offseason? How is your family?” Something like that. It’s a really useless time.

So it’s totally awkward small talk?

Oh yeah. It’s a maintenance conversation that you’re trying to have with somebody that is really not your best friend. Maybe it’s different for other people.

9. What makes you happy right now?

Good question. Honestly, just racing. I mean, that’s a very broad thing, but I guess just competing and being happy with that. I’m not super linked to friendships or things like that yet, but just racing and being in my own space, being able to accomplish things that I’m really just trying to strive for by myself.

10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do forever.” Would you accept that offer?

No, because that’s out of style. It’s gonna kill my vibe too much with people my age.

People your age are not going to think that’s the William Byron brand.

That’s not gonna be cool. I probably wouldn’t do that.

11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series.

I’ll pick 24.

This question was “Who will win the Cup title five years from now?” So this would be for 2024. Who wins?

Uh, me. Yeah. (Laughs)

That makes sense. You’ll still be around, you’ll still be young.

I hope I’m still around. If I don’t have a job, that would be really sad. I don’t know what I would be doing. Hopefully racing.

12. The last interview was with Aric Almirola. He wants to know with all the pressure that’s around you to be the next guy at Hendrick and all this hype that comes with you, what do you do in your daily life or your time away from the track to get away from all that and have fun?

That’s a great question. You know, I snowboard during the offseason. My friends at school are completely normal kids. I really don’t get asked a lot about racing outside of racing when I’m with my other friends, so I feel like that’s a great way to disconnect.

And honestly I feel like I’m living something that I never expected to do, so that’s fun for me. I know that ultimately, I’m not attached to this by my family or anything, and that’s a really cool disconnection I have from racing. So my family’s not going to judge me on whether I succeed or fail on the racetrack. They care, but they don’t care for the sake of my life goals. So I think I’m kind of living that lack of pressure from a family perspective.

Do you have a question I can ask another driver?

If you could change the schedule one way, how much time you would spend around the racetrack? Like what do you think is the ideal schedule each week? Two days?

So the weekend schedule?

Yes. It is a one-day show? Show up, have one practice? How do you think we should do that?


Previous 12 Questions interviews with William Byron:

— Aug. 31, 2016

— May 17, 2017

Aug. 21, 2018

 

The Top Five: Breaking down the Las Vegas race

 Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway…

1. Expectations left unfulfilled

Imagine there’s a new movie coming out and it has all the buzz of a must-see blockbuster. Hollywood news outlets are pumping up the all-star cast, critics who have gotten sneak peeks say it’s Oscar-worthy and your timeline is filled with tweets about people who can’t wait to see it.

You can’t afford to miss out, so you buy advance tickets in the first hour they go on sale. You count down the days after months of hype, and finally — FINALLY — you settle into your seat with popcorn and a giant soda.

The lights dim. The movie starts. And…it’s just…OK.

Under normal circumstances, if you’d gone into the theater with standard expectations of what you want out of a movie, it’d be fine. This, though, feels like such a bummer.

This film wasn’t just supposed to be average; it was supposed to be AMAZING. You’d bought into the talk of how this movie could revolutionize Hollywood. Maybe it would even set a new standard for entertainment.

Not surprisingly, you’re quite unhappy about this development. Your emotions alternate between feeling deflated, disappointed and outright pissed — at yourself and those who oversold it — because it didn’t live up to your hopes.

You obviously get where I’m going with this, but that’s what happened Sunday in Las Vegas. The new rules package (how many times have you heard those three words together in the last year?) dominated the conversation for so long, and you’d read and heard everything there was to read and hear about it.

Then it debuted, to much ado. And it was just fine.

For a mile and a half track, it was quite a decent race. A good race by many historical standards.

But given how sky-high the expectations were, and the buildup and anticipation surrounding it…well, it felt like a letdown.

It sucks to feel that way about a race that had thrilling restarts, great battles for the lead and a close finish after a long green-flag run. When you’re expecting to see something epic, though, it’s hard to settle for pretty good.

2. What happened

Let’s back up for a moment and talk about why there was so much genuine hope espoused by many people in the garage. From officials to drivers to spotters to media, there was a public expectation of a wild Sunday that featured solid racing throughout the field. (It’s important to note I don’t think this was phony hype to trick people into watching, but rather a true belief in what was to come.)

The evidence for this was based primarily on four 25-lap “races” during the Las Vegas test in January, but it also extended to Saturday’s final practice — where drivers were all over the track.

If practice looks this good, imagine the race itself!

But once the rag dropped on Sunday, it was more spread out than even NASCAR officials thought it would be. The fact there were no cautions didn’t help, either — since restarts were the best part of the race.

As it turns out, the drivers weren’t surprised by this development. When I asked Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski if they were caught off guard by the field breaking apart quicker than at the January test, they all said no.

“I knew they were going to break apart,” Stenhouse said. “Watching in the test, they started breaking away fairly quick — and there were cooler conditions then and less cars. I knew if they were breaking apart then, they were going to break apart here (with much warmer weather).”

Many of you were quick to point out on Twitter that you knew all along the drafting would look different under actual race conditions. Apparently you were right.

“The testing is never like racing,” Keselowski said.

It would have been nice if someone had said that before the race in order to set more realistic expectations for how Las Vegas. If they did, I missed it.

3. On the bright side

Whoever is the defending NASCAR champion has traditionally had a platform for opinions and had a receptive audience when stumping for change — at least among reporters eager to print any interesting viewpoints.

Joey Logano has yet to really use his platform for that purpose, although he had some very strong opinions about the Vegas race that reflected his optimistic nature and sunny outlook on life.

Logano enthusiastically endorsed the new rules package and was baffled to hear a reporter mention that fans on Twitter didn’t love it as much as Logano did.

“I don’t really know what to say if you don’t like that,” he said. “It’s not very often where you’re going to have a green flag run that long (100 laps) and have a finish that close between three cars. That’s something, I’ll tell you what.”

Logano said Vegas was a “great race” and said the new package was “a big thumbs up for the sport.”

“I thought the racing was awesome,” he said. “You’re side by side. There’s aggressive blocks and big moves and bumping and banging. That’s NASCAR, baby! I don’t really know what else to tell you.”

NASCAR itself (or at least the person speaking for NASCAR — competition chief Steve O’Donnell) took a more conservative approach to evaluating the race. O’Donnell said he “liked what I saw” but was also “not satisfied” at the same time. He said the package remained a work in progress.

“Was it tremendous improvement (over last year)? Probably not,” O’Donnell said. “But as a fan, you want to see lead changes. We saw that today. In the past with no cautions, we would have seen someone check out all race long and we wouldn’t have seen a lead change.”

Though most drivers either bit their tongue or were salty about how the package raced (coughKyleBuschcough), some indicated they’re just along for the ride.

“If it was entertaining to watch, then I don’t care (about how it raced),” Chase Elliott said. “That’s the main thing. If entertainment is produced, I’m happy to drive whatever it is.”

4. O caution flag, where art thou?

After flirting with a caution-free race twice last year, the Cup Series finally produced one on Sunday (not counting the pre-planned stage cautions, of course). That made for the first race without a “natural” caution flag since October 2002 at Talladega.

Of everything that happened Sunday, that was by FAR the most shocking. There was a real concern the race would be a total wreckfest, with drivers unable to handle ill-handling cars in traffic and on crazy restarts. There was actually a bet available at the Vegas sports books that had the over/under of “cars out of the race at the halfway point” at 1.5. I didn’t play it, but was thinking that bet would be the lock of all locks.

Instead, no cars were officially out of the race by the halfway point (and only one, Joey Gase, didn’t finish).

Even O’Donnell said he was surprised by the lack of cautions.

“You go back before the race, and I think even some of the media (said) — and it probably came from the garage — ‘We’re going to wreck the entire field. This isn’t going to be a race,’” he said. “Didn’t happen.”

Why not? According to Denny Hamlin, it’s because the cars can’t get close enough to each other once the field breaks apart following the restarts.

“Once it gets strung out like that, it’s honestly so tough to run kind of near someone — especially late in a run — that the chance of someone running into each other is less likely,” he said.

It will be fascinating to see if this becomes a trend in the new package, or whether Vegas was an anomaly.

5. TV’s role 

During a key moment of the race, when Team Penske teammates Keselowski and Logano were battling for the lead, viewers briefly lost perspective on the action. FOX was showing the race from Logano’s bumper cam, and the drivers suddenly had some sort of contact — but it was hard to tell what happened. A replay from a wider angle was never shown (unless I missed it, which is definitely possible).

That’s ironic, since Keselowski on Friday had stumped for NASCAR’s TV partners to “zoom the cameras out” when showing races.

“Whether it’s this rules packages or last year’s rules package, I just don’t feel like with the cameras zoomed in you can really appreciate all that’s going on,” he said. “If I was sitting on my couch watching the race, the first thing I would say is  ‘Zoom the cameras out!’ That’s what I’m saying when I watch an Xfinity Series race or something.

“I think more so than any rules change, the biggest thing we can do is try to give a better perception of how much great racing there is across the whole field.”

This year it’s going to be more important than ever for TV to offer enough of a glimpse to pull back and show the big picture of what’s happening — particularly since it seems like the leader may be tough to pass in clean air. The real racing may be a cluster of cars fighting for fifth rather than first.

Now, did FOX missed much action on Sunday? No. From what I saw live, the racing was often single-file on the bottom groove, so the TV angles may not have mattered. But as the season marches on, let’s hope Keselowski’s wish comes true and helps NASCAR give the rules package a fighting chance with viewers at home.

Predictions for how Sunday’s Las Vegas race will look

If you asked someone to name the most unpredictable races of the season, they’d probably say Daytona and Talladega. And it makes sense, given the volatility of the Big One and the changing nature of the racing (single file vs. pack).

But from this view, today’s race at Las Vegas — the first with the full/extreme 2019 rules package on the cars — is way more hard to predict.

We don’t know who is going to be good (“You can’t look at the speed charts,” Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said). We don’t know what the racing is going to look like (the most laps ever run in this package was 25 laps at a test with a dozen cars). We don’t know how potential wrecks might play into the outcome of the race.

That said, here are a few guesses to what might happen today:

— Track position is going to be everything for the leader — and ultimately the winner. It will be very difficult to pass the leader once they get into clean air, although that car will never be able to pull away by more than a couple seconds.

— Given the emphasis on track position, restarts are going to be absolutely bonkers. The scramble is going to be crazy when the field is bunched up, and it will probably last for a solid 10 or 20 laps after the green — with the high chance of a big wreck or two.

— Even though the leader might not be touched, the racing from third to 15th is going to be way better than it was before at most intermediate tracks (in terms of close racing and passing and cars all over the place). So maybe that’s the biggest positive of this package.

— Some cars are going to absolutely kill it with their setup and car builds — and some are going to be painfully out to lunch. It all depends on how much they’re “trimmed out” — which is the balance between speed (getting the gigantic spoiler out of the air) and handling (having more downforce to provide stability in traffic but also more drag, which will slow the car). For example: The Richard Childress Racing cars of Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric have been at the top of the speed charts all weekend — but the garage thinks that’s because they’re trimmed out more than everyone else. “I was behind the 3 a couple times and he had to lift pretty big from getting loose, so that’s a product of having your car trimmed out and trying to make speed out of it,” Stenhouse said.

— The best performers today will be the best drafters, not necessarily the ones with the fastest cars. Kyle Busch crew chief Adam Stevens said the entire key is “about who can stay in the gas the longest and navigate through traffic and get out front.” When a driver has to get out of the gas due to a sketchy moment or ill-handling car, they’re going to get left behind (since most of the competitors will be wide open). Said Dillon crew chief Danny Stockman: “There is a balance you’ve got to hit, and whoever hits that balance will be in victory lane on Sunday.”

— All that said, here are my top five drivers to watch today: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

New aero package qualifying a wacky circus, but it was entertaining

There’s no cheering allowed in the press box, but I sure hope laughing is permitted.

That’s because I spent a decent part of Friday’s qualifying session at Las Vegas — the first with the new aero rules package — cracking up. Watching the bizarre, wacky game of chicken was honestly hilarious, and I enjoyed the spectacle of the strange scene.

Now, was that the fairest way to determine the polesitter for a major league, professional race? LORD no! Does it reward the fastest car or the best driver? C’mon. Of course not. This was more of a circus than a competition.

But damn if it wasn’t entertaining in its uniquely weird way. And really, isn’t that going to be the theme of 2019 NASCAR? “Entertaining in a uniquely weird way?”

Think about it: We’re two days away from seeing a bunch of restricted-power cars with the equivalent of aerodynamic parachutes run around a track that was originally built for high-speed, balls-to-the-walls racing. Everything is different now, and this is just another sign.

I’m sure the drivers absolutely hated what happened on Friday, and I don’t blame them. If you grew up as the most elite driver in your region and ascended to the ranks of America’s top racing series, you’d probably want your talent and team’s hard work to shine through. You’d probably be disgusted at being treated like a trained monkey who gets in the car and holds it wide open while getting beat by a driver who wasn’t better than you but just got great timing with a draft.

But the world they live in — the NASCAR universe we all share as people who follow the sport — has changed in 2019. Those in charge have opted for entertainment and show business over the purity of racing, a huge gamble to try and stop the sport’s decline.

At the same time, I’m finding myself caring less about the holiness of some aspects of the weekend. That includes qualifying, because…does it really even matter?

Last year, some cars would fail to make a qualifying attempt due to inspection issues — and then drive up to the front before the end of Stage 1 like it was nothing. So why is qualifying even necessary? Who cares where drivers start?They could just do a random draw (like before the Clash) and start that way.

Yes, this qualifying session was fairly stupid, but it was also entertaining. Will I still feel that way a month or five months from now, after this has happened multiple times? Eh, maybe not. But NASCAR will probably have revamped the format by then anyway.

Maybe I’m just resigned to constant change at this point, but qualifying didn’t make me outraged or mad. I’m not jumping up and down screaming out principle and credibility. They qualified, got a starting lineup out of it and it was funny at the same time.

What’s so bad about that?

“I’ll leave that up to you guys on how to wrap your arms around it,” Kevin Harvick said after winning the pole.

Personally, I’m OK with embracing it. But I certainly understand if others don’t.