Despite some tweaks to the Cup Series qualifying format, Friday at Texas looked a lot like previously messy qualifying sessions at Fontana and Las Vegas.
Drivers were upset with how the session unfolded, with cars mostly waiting on pit road until the final minutes and then scrambling to try and get laps recorded before time ran out.
“You just can’t qualify these cars this way,” Kevin Harvick said. “I love group qualifying, but I just laughed all the way out to the racetrack.”
“It’s frustrating and that’s all you can really say about it,” Denny Hamlin said. “It’s just frustrating.”
“It’s chaotic,” Aric Almirola said. “It’s silly.”
But NASCAR in turn criticized the drivers, believing they could have done more to avoid the session turning into a strange spectacle.
NASCAR Cup Series Managing Director Jay Fabian said officials were “disappointed” to see drivers stay on pit road for so long before making their lap and cited Daniel Suarez as a driver who didn’t need the draft to qualify well. He questioned why other drivers didn’t follow Suarez’s lead.
“It’s disappointing they give reasons why they don’t go, then someone goes and they choose not to follow them,” Fabian said of the drivers. “A lot of what they say doesn’t add up with their actions on pit road. That’s the disappointing part. When you see someone roll, you would assume somebody would follow them — and they chose not to.”
Fabian vowed NASCAR would “take whatever steps we have to to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again.”
“Pretty much everything is on the table as far as what we’ll do moving forward,” he added.
Fabian also said Clint Bowyer’s complaints about Ryan Newman clogging the middle at the end of Round 1 were a product of Bowyer being “upset…probably because he didn’t get to make his lap” — and Newman didn’t do anything worth being penalized.
“There were plenty of TV views that showed there was room to go by (Newman),” Fabian said. “I’m sure (Bowyer) is upset.”
Bowyer was indeed upset, feeling like NASCAR should have learned from its previous qualifying “failure” and changed the format before this happened again.
“It’s sad,” Bowyer said. “Those people up there paid a lot of money to bring their families here to watch a qualifying session where people try to go out and do their best, and you’re just sitting around waiting because you know your best is only good enough if the guy in front of you does a good job. That’s not qualifying.”
Martin Truex Jr. said the solution would be to “Take the plate off and let us qualify like men — drive them,” he said.
But while many drivers were fuming, Joey Logano wasn’t. Asked about how to fix qualifying, Logano said, “Who said there’s a problem?”
“I think it’s entertaining,” Logano said. “There’s a lot to talk about for you guys. You guys all have microphones out and there’s a lot to talk about, so I think it’s OK.”