The Top Five: Breaking down the Fontana race

I normally post five thoughts in this space after each race. However, this week I only have one thought…

Never Trust A Test.

If there’s one thing this letdown of an opening month has taught us, it’s that just because you see drivers and cars act a certain way during a test session — or practice or qualifying, for that matter — doesn’t mean the race will actually look the same way.

Some of you are reading this right now going, “DUH! Racing is always different once a trophy and money are on the line.”

OK, well…I knew that on some level. I just didn’t expect it to be this far off.

But yeah. Never. Trust. A. Test.

This false sense of optimism started with a tire test — at Fontana, no less! — where three cars in early January hit the track with a variety of different tire combinations and ran laps together.

Remarkably, they mostly stayed together. The leader couldn’t get away. A normally-boring test session was suddenly intriguing enough to stand on the roof of the infield suites and watch the trio turn 10 or 15 laps at a time.

When I asked Martin Truex Jr., one of the drivers at the test, whether they were running hard enough to simulate race conditions, he said, “Absolutely.” And I’m pretty sure that was the truth.

Then came the organizational test at Las Vegas, where NASCAR had a dozen teams simulate 25-lap races. The mini races were quite interesting, with the field mostly staying together and drivers trying three- and four-wide moves in the pack. 

WHOA! Maybe this new package was going to work. Perhaps all of its promise to race like a combination of the Truck Series and the All-Star Race would be fulfilled. There seemed to be enough evidence to believe it would. (Here’s a recap, but it’s a bit cringe-worthy to read now.)

If only I’d known what I know now: Never. Trust. A. Test.

As it turned out, the partial debut of the new package at Atlanta looked like a typical Atlanta race. Then Vegas looked like Vegas (except without any cautions). Then Phoenix was plagued by a lack of passing. And Sunday, Fontana was below average by its own standards of the last five years or so.

Whatever NASCAR thought or hoped was going to happen with the new package, there’s no question it has not achieved the goals so far.

On the plus side, restarts have been more exciting. There are a few laps at a time during the race which are noticeably better than before.

But then that’s about it. Drivers fall into their positions and can’t really do much, hamstrung by dirty air and a lack of horsepower to overcome it.

No one wrecks (the cars are more stable now) and the racing largely looks like it always did. Just…slower.

That can’t possibly be what NASCAR had in mind when it implemented this. And although many people are still preaching patience, it seems at this point — after two 1.5-mile tracks, a 1-mile track and a 2-mile track with different degrees of pavement wear — that the package isn’t going to be some magic fix.

No, this package was NEVER going to produce pack racing. And NASCAR never said it would.

But it was definitely expected to keep the racing tighter and make it more entertaining, which hasn’t happened.

So what gives? Why didn’t Fontana, for example, look like it did in the test?

“We never ran that long (at the test),” said Joey Logano, who was one of the drivers who attended. “Nothing surprising there. I knew (Sunday) was going to be 10 laps of really aggressive, tight racing — and then handling was going to come into play.”

But wait. What about the hopes of creating a race where the cars mostly ran as a group?

“You’re never going to keep us all together,” Truex said. “There are going to be good cars; there are going to be bad cars. The equalizer is the slow speeds and new tires at the beginning of a run. Once the tires get worn out, we get separated. It’s just the way it is.

“Unless we go 60 miles an hour, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Well…damn. In other words, my personal preseason optimism appears to have been overplayed, false hope.

Maybe the package isn’t a failure yet — it’s far too early to call it a total loss — but it certainly has not achieved what a lot of us expected it would. And the immense expectations have played a massive role in making the package feel like a disappointment.

After all, this was a Faustian bargain on the soul of NASCAR racing — a theoretical sacrifice of all-out speed and elite driver skill in exchange for increased excitement that would lead to better TV ratings and attendance.

But that hasn’t happened to this point. If the package is going to deliver, it must be stuck in transit.

And honestly, here’s where I feel for NASCAR. Yell at officials all you want for going down this road in the first place, but at least they had good intentions at heart — making the product more entertaining for fans.

The early returns, though, aren’t good. We’re assured NASCAR will keep working on it, so let’s hope that’s the case sooner than later if this trend continues.

It seems all the testing or simulation or iRacing in the world can’t reproduce true race conditions, so the only way to find out if a package works is to try it in an actual event.

Two or three months from now, if the package still hasn’t done what was expected? Let’s hope those in power are willing to try some science experiments in real races this summer, lest this turn into a lost season at a critical juncture in the sport’s history.

After all, we might not be able to trust a test. But there’s a decent chance we can trust a race.

Welp, so much for that idea!

The instant all 12 cars failed to take the green flag of Friday’s final qualifying round at Fontana was the same moment this qualifying format died.

Austin Dillon won perhaps the most unique pole in NASCAR history by posting a speed of 0.00 mph in the final round of qualifying, beating everyone else based on his Round 2 time because not a single driver made an official lap in the completed session.

Just 39 days ago, NASCAR’s Scott Miller said the sanctioning body would retain group qualifying for this season — despite the probability of cars drafting at intermediate tracks.

That went against what NASCAR does with the Truck Series, where single-car qualifying is required on tracks where the drivers can draft. But when it came to the Cup Series, Miller had said, “We’re in show business.”

It was a fun and optimistic thought that lasted until Friday — when the show turned into a “mockery,” as Miller put it. Suddenly, that was the end of the current qualifying procedures.

“We hoped things would go better than that,” Miller said. “Obviously, we have a little work to do on our part to get a better format so things like that can’t happen. We certainly want to provide our fans with what they deserve, and we — and the teams — didn’t do a very good job of that today. So we’re certainly disappointed.”

Unfortunately, there aren’t any other obvious solutions out there. Drivers had more shoulder shrugs than suggestions when asked what NASCAR should do now.

Whether it’s one big round of group qualifying or a hybrid solution (two group rounds plus a single-car round), there’s no way to avoid drafting when cars are allowed to qualify at the same time.

“I don’t know what else you can do, because the lead car is at such a disadvantage in qualifying,” Denny Hamlin said. “You don’t want to be first (in the draft) — and when you don’t want to be first, it will be a waiting game no matter what.”

But for the most part, the drivers seemed to recognize change was coming — particularly after they heard boos from the stands after their almost-laps.

“I’ve seen it in other sports, but I’ve never seen it in ours: We just got booed,” a visibly discouraged Clint Bowyer said. “It’s disappointing for everybody involved. I saw this coming three weeks ago; I think we all did.

“I know we’re capable as an industry of putting on a better show than that and I know they’ll make the right provisions to make that correct. Unfortunately, it’s going to take something like that to make that adjustment.”

The adjustment — in whatever form — will likely come by Texas in two weeks (drivers can’t draft at Martinsville next week). But the solution is yet to be determined.

“We’ve been working on a few other things, but we really don’t want to go to back to single-car qualifying,” Miller said. “There may not be another way. But we want to try to exhaust every possibility before we do that, because it’s just not as fun, not as intriguing of a show as the group situation.”

Jimmie Johnson acknowledged single-car qualifying isn’t as entertaining, but said “we’ll have to pick from the lesser of two evils in the end” — though which one is lesser option remains unclear.

Other opinions ranged from being fine with the current format (“I don’t see any problem with it; it’s drama, baby,” Kyle Busch said, perhaps sarcastically) to calling for a return to tradition (“I am still a big fan of single-car qualifying. That is the way qualifying should be,” Ryan Newman said).

Regardless of the solution, there was a sense of disappointment for the fans in attendance who made their opinions known.

“I looked up there in the stands after we got out of our cars and I felt bad for those people, because they paid money to come watch us qualify,” Aric Almirola said. “And they didn’t even get to see us post a lap in the final round.”

Said Kevin Harvick: “I think the crowd booing tells the story.”


Related: My now-ice-cold take from Las Vegas in favor of this format

 

The Top Five: Breaking down the Phoenix spring race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway…

1. Passing Pain

Kevin Harvick is the all-time leader in wins and laps led at Phoenix, so you’d figure he’s better at passing cars than anyone here.

But after Sunday’s race, Harvick said passing was “extremely difficult” — even for him — and he struggled to get around cars that were “six-, seven-, eight-tenths slower than us at the end of the race.”

What happened? Well, it appears this version of the 2019 rules package — last year’s horsepower level (750) combined with the giant spoiler — created a combination of speed and dirty air that drivers found difficult to overcome.

“It was really, really, really, really, really hard to pass,” Joey Logano said. “You start to catch a car and you just stop. That big spoiler on the back makes it really, really challenging to even get to the car in front of you to make something happen.”

Even race winner Kyle Busch noted he wouldn’t have been able to win unless Ryan Blaney got into lapped traffic toward the end of a long run — because Blaney “had the same problems I had (when) he’s behind other cars in front of him.”

“If it’s a 10-lap run, (the win) is his,” Busch said. “If it’s 20, 30, 40, 50 laps, it’s probably his race.”

But it was a 73-lap run, and that allowed Busch to take advantage of lapped cars. Otherwise…

“You were really stuck and mired behind guys,” he said.

At least one driver aside from Busch didn’t mind the conditions.

“I mean, it’s been really hard for me to pass anyone the last year and a half or two years,” Jimmie Johnson said after finishing eighth. “I know other are guys standing here complaining more, but shit, that’s the best I’ve run in awhile. So I’m good.”

2. Restarts all the rage

But hey, how about those crazy restarts? Those were cool; certainly the highlight of the race, much like Las Vegas.

Logano said restarts “became everything” because drivers knew if they got through the first couple laps of a restart and let the race settle out, they could pretty much stay there.

Kyle Larson started 31st and finished sixth, but credited restarts for most of his gains.

“I don’t think I made many actual green-flag passes — I felt like I just had some really good restarts,” he said. “Restarts were kind of what saved us. Once you got in line, it was hard to pass until the very end of that last run there (when the tires finally wore out).”

The other reason restarts were so wild, Logano said, was because the bigger blade on the back of the car gave more grip — so drivers were “sending it off in there.”

“They were able to be more aggressive on restarts,” Logano said. “But after that, it didn’t matter how aggressive you were — you weren’t going to get there. It was too hard to catch them.”

If the first few races are any indication, eye-popping restarts should become one of the themes of this season.

3. Strategy, strategy, strategy

Another theme of this season could end up being how teams adapt to the track position game by using tire strategy or pit road strategy.

It’s not just restarts, Denny Hamlin said, but pit crews and every part of strategy that matters even more now. Drivers simply can’t afford to lose any positions, because they might not get them back (or take them a very long time to do so, like with Harvick after he pitted and only got back to ninth).

“All of that is so important because you cannot drive around someone if you’re significantly faster,” Hamlin said. “They have to actually move out of the way or you have to somehow catch them in a bad spot.”

Kyle Busch crew chief Adam Stevens said the track position game didn’t surprise him — he thought it was going to be “even harder to pass than it was.”

But he was intrigued by how some of the better cars who played tire strategy (like Johnson taking two) were able to hold onto their positions throughout a run.

“There’s going to be a lot of data for us to dig into so we can plan how we’re going to strategize the next race when we come back,” he said.

One can only imagine how many races will be won by strategic decisions that might push the envelope or seem unorthodox at the time. When the NASCAR garage is tasked with coming up with different ways to approach a race, crew chiefs and engineers usually deliver.

As for Harvick, he said the lesson was pretty simple on how to play the strategy for the next Phoenix race.

“Just restart first,” he said.

4. O, Fontana

I’m not going to lie here — I’m getting a little worried about the various forms of this package after the first three races. We’ve seen three different uses of it — at Atlanta, Vegas and now Phoenix — with ho-hum results. Certainly nothing spectacular yet.

But Fontana really seems to be a place where that could change. I have high hopes of seeing the first great race of the season, because the extreme form of the package (550 horsepower with the aero ducts) combined with a sweeping 2-mile track that happens to have worn-out asphalt…well, all the ingredients are there.

If it’s not a good race? Gulp. Let’s not think about that yet, because it could mean this might be a long season.

Maybe this means there’s a lot riding on Fontana, but if any track is going to work with this rules package, you’d think that would be one.

5. In the (Fan) Zone

After a couple times seeing the new ISM Raceway “INfield” in action, I’m convinced it’s the best fan experience in NASCAR. With apologies to the Neon Garage in Las Vegas, the new Richmond Raceway garages (similar to Phoenix) and the Daytona fan zone, Phoenix just goes above and beyond with the combination of amenities and access.

It’s not cheap — $129 for a three-day pass and $89 on Sunday only, which is on top of your regular race ticket. But damn, I would think it’s worth it.

Take practice sessions, for example. The fans are literally inside the garages, with just a waist-high fence separating them from the cars and drivers. There are no windows or barriers between them and their favorite teams, which is pretty amazing in itself.

Then there’s the race day experience, which goes as far to allow any INfield passholder into victory lane (try to get a spot with at least 50 laps to go) for the celebration.

Plus there’s stuff like a margarita bar and plenty of screens (and it’s right behind pit road, so you can see some of that action).

This probably sounds like an advertisement (sorry), but I wanted to make sure it was on your radar.  In an alternate universe where I wasn’t a journalist and was just at the track for fun, I could easily picture myself spending an enjoyable, sun-drenched afternoon there with my friends.

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.