With a few drivers blasting the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying format this weekend, what do you think would be the best qualifying method from a competition and fan entertainment standpoint?
Wesley Coburn: I like group qualifying. Single-car qualifying stretches out millions of years, furthering the casual perception that NASCAR is boring. Group qualifying makes it a mini race itself. Maybe they could let five cars loose at a time, based on practice speeds or owner points or something, to lessen the chaos during the early rounds.
Frank Velat: Single-car is the way to go. This is qualifying. It doesn’t exist for entertainment purposes. Additionally, single-lap solo car runs open things up for a surprise pole winner or two. If a team like Front Row Motorsports can lay down a fast lap, it might steal some well-deserved time in the spotlight.
Amy Henderson: Go back to single-car runs. Qualifying isn’t meant to be entertaining for fans; it’s meant to set the field correctly so that the race is entertaining for fans. Single-car runs worked for decades. There was never a reason to change it in the first place.
Mike Neff: Single-car qualifying is mundane but provides a true test of speed. Group qualifying is exciting but doesn’t always give you the best results. For several years the question of heat races has been raised. It would allow for some fan excitement and provide value for the promoter the day before the actual race.
Kyle Larson was penalized for too many crew members over the wall because one touched the ground in the pit box to maintain his balance. Was NASCAR too strict, or should the rule continue to be enforced as is?
Neff: Apparently there have been multiple pit crew members doing this over the last few weeks, so teams were warned before Sunday that the penalty would be called for a hand in the box. Austin Dillon’s crew member was at least reaching for a tire. Lord knows what Kyle Larson’s teammate was doing. Bottom line, don’t touch the pit box. The rule is black and white, and the teams know it is going to be called.
Henderson: It sucks for Larson, but NASCAR needs to enforce the rule for everyone. Does one guy’s toe hitting the ground before the driver is a box away really make that much difference in the stop? No, but if you let one slide, you’re backed into a corner, because now there’s a new line, and when someone crosses that, then what? Another new one because it wasn’t by much? Slippery slope, and one that can easily be avoided with the hard line.
Coburn: NASCAR seems to make up the rules (or enforcement of them) as it goes along. It enforced the rule as it’s written, so good for the sanctioning body. Is it a little over the top? Maybe, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
Velat: Well, for as much grief as NASCAR catches for being inconsistent, I suppose taking the judgment out of such a call is probably the best way to handle it. I would be curious as to how many times that has happened in the past without a penalty being leveraged, because I’m sure it has. But given the situation, the call was correct.
After Sunday’s race, the new aero package was the subject of extensive criticism. Is it warranted?
Velat: Patience isn’t a strength of sports fans in general, and NASCAR fans in particular. However, this is such a sudden overreaction that it’s almost laughable. There were people already lobbing criticisms less than 10 minutes into the opening practice. A lot of it comes from expectations vs. reality, but it isn’t going to generate the same type of results at each track. Las Vegas Motor Speedway isn’t Charlotte Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway or Kansas Speedway. We need a few more events to have some basis for comparison before we dismiss it as a failure.
Henderson: The laws of physics still apply to racing, so clean air will always be king. With the race going green virtually all day, would the margin of victory have been as close with the old package? Maybe, maybe not. The battle for the lead in the last 20 laps was fun to watch. Does the winning pass only count as exciting if it’s between Turn 4 of the final lap and the checkered flag? It wasn’t the best race ever by any stretch, but it was also far from the worst. Was the package, or simply the law of averages? Let’s wait a couple months and then decide. Results will vary by track and change as the season wears on, and there are better ways to make cars competitive. But there was some good racing going on on Sunday, especially if you include the entire field and not just a couple guys up front.
Neff: Way too early to pass judgment. This is a work in progress. Some teams will figure it out faster than others. Eventually they all will and we’ll be back to right about where we were with the old package.
Coburn: The cars are noticeably slower. Restarts are exciting, but the racing didn’t seem that much different. Let’s wait a few more weeks to decide on this, say early May. But my initial reaction was, “This… isn’t that great.”
How important do you think it is to the sport for Hailie Deegan to become a successful NASCAR driver?
Velat: I don’t see it being essential to the sport but I have to think it can only help. It should be a sport of equal opportunity, and a winning female driver would certainly attract some positive attention from areas (fans, sponsor companies, media) that may not be interested otherwise.
Coburn: Extremely. Racing is one of the few events where men and women can compete on a level playing field, and NASCAR is far behind NHRA and IndyCar as far as having women becoming a regular part of the landscape. Female superheroes didn’t really exist before Wonder Woman showed little girls that they could be heroes, too. That was Danica Patrick’s role, showing that the Cup Series can be reached. Now it’s time for someone like Captain Marvel to come along and kick butt. Based on the K&N Pro Series West race, Hailie Deegan might become Captain Marvel.
Neff: It all depends on your opinion of the importance of diversity in attracting new fans. It is a big deal to have young people succeed. Man, woman, minority, majority, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to see some young people succeeding to bring in younger fans. Deegan is a great personality, and having her succeed will bring a lot of interest to the sport — so I hope she goes far, but I’m not putting pressure to succeed just on her shoulders.
Henderson: Moderately. There’s no doubt that a successful female driver would bring some young girls on board as fans. Patrick was popular among that demographic with the success. But the best thing for the sport is to simply have the best drivers in the top series, because that creates the most competitive racing. Deegan could well earn her place in those ranks if she, her car owners and her sponsors are willing to let her develop at her own pace and not move her up before she’s ready. She’s only 17 and has plenty of time to grow.
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