Normally, the Daytona 500 winner taking the pole a week after his triumph would be the biggest story of qualifying. But Friday’s qualifying session at Atlanta Motor Speedway was anything but normal.
Joey Logano used a blistering 194.683 mph lap to take the pole for Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500, the ninth of his career. However, he wasn’t the story of the night. It was the drivers that never made it onto the track that caught people’s eye.
In the first 1.5-mile race under the 2015 rule format, multiple drivers never made it out onto the track for a qualifying attempt after only 15 out of the first 40 cars were able to pass through inspection on their first attempt. After multiple rear camber issues were reported, NASCAR pushed qualifying back 15 minutes from 5:45 to 6 p.m., but multiple teams were still unable to pass through tech in time to get a lap in.
Mike Wallace, Reed Sorenson, Michael Annett, and Matt DiBenedetto failed to make the race after not posting a lap. They’ll join Travis Kvapil, who was forced to withdraw after Team Xtreme’s No. 44 car was stolen from their hotel overnight, as the drivers heading home early.
Drivers were admittedly frustrated after failing to make it to the track.
“When you have this many teams having issues going through, there’s something wrong with this system or something wrong with the amount of time they allotted to get through,” said Gordon in an interview with USA Today. “There’s no way with this many good cars and talented people that they can’t figure out how to get these cars through inspection. These guys are too smart and yeah, we’re pushing limits, but there’s something wrong here.
“I’m embarrassed for our series now that this just happened. I’m really upset for my sponsor 3M that just came on this weekend when we didn’t get a chance to qualify. We’re just fortunate that (we make the race). I know there’s a lot of teams that aren’t going to be that fortunate. I hate it for these guys that work so hard…This is an embarrassment for all of us.”
“Obviously they weren’t organized enough to get everything through tech,” said Matt Kenseth to ESPN. “The people up there (in the stands) came to watch qualifying, and don’t get to watch everybody qualify, so it’s kind of confusing this (evening) for sure.”
While those teams suffered, others benefited. Because of NASCAR’s qualifying rules, all 34 of the teams that made an attempt to qualify in round one were guaranteed a position in Sunday’s race. Drivers such as Ron Hornaday, Jr.; JJ Yeley and Brendan Gaughan could breathe a sigh of relief as round one came to a close.
Round two went by smoothly after the round one chaos, with Kevin Harvick taking the fastest time. However, following round two, more issues arose.
NASCAR’s timing and scoring computers had an issue. They were forced to reboot them, taking an extra few minutes to start round three as darkness approached. Round three finally started at 6:46 p.m. ET, over an hour after the planned start time.
Throughout it all, Logano kept the poise and composure seen last week at Daytona to seize the pole for Sunday’s race.
“This is our first time with the new rules package, but our Shell-Pennzoil Ford had a lot of speed,” said Logano to ESPN. “(Crew Chief) Todd (Gordon) texted me last night and said ‘we’re staying in qualifying trim all day, and that’s not what we normally do.”
“I hate doing that, but it worked out, so I guess he’s smarter than me,” Logano added. “First time I came here, I qualified 42nd. I always remember that. To be able to be on both ends of it now is pretty special.
“I really want to win here. I lived here for six year. I used to race on the quarter-mile out here in my legends car.”
2014 champion and Daytona 500 runner-up Harvick will join Logano on the front row.
“I just did a bad job. In round one I missed turn one, and in the last round I missed turn one again,” said Harvick to ESPN after his run. “I just didn’t get to the bottom like I needed to (in order) to get back to the throttle…The 22’s probably been the fastest on a single car run, but I feel really good about our car on the long haul, and that’s what matter.”
With qualifying madness over, the Sprint Cup Series will return to the track at Saturday noon ET for final practice. Coverage for the Fields of Honor Quiktrip 500 will begin on Sunday shortly after 1 p.m. ET.
About the author
A graduate of Ball State, Aaron rejoins Frontstretch for his second season in 2016 following a successful year that included covering seven races and starting the popular "Two-Headed Monster" column in 2015. Now in his third year of covering motorsports, Aaron serves as an Assistant Editor for Frontstretch while also contributing to other popular sites including Speed51 and The Apex. He encourages you to come say hi when you see him at the track.