The goal of NASCAR qualifying is to have the fastest speed. On Friday (March 15) at Auto Club Speedway, forget speed; Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers couldn’t even complete a single lap.
A strategy ploy that failed under the sport’s new handling package ended in embarrassment as all teams were left holding their cards. All 12 drivers who made the final round of qualifying started too late in the session, determined not to be the one at the front of the group draft. Reduced horsepower has made drafting important in order to gain some extra speed for a one-lap run. In many cases, drivers are simply running wide open, not tapping the brakes so they’re searching for any small way to gain time.
But this strategy resulted in no times for anyone. No one completed a lap under the system and all drivers were scored with zeroes. It resulted in Austin Dillon being awarded his fourth career pole after having the fastest time in round two.
“We have a little bit of work to do on our part to get a little better format,” said NASCAR Vice President of Competition Scott Miller after the session. “Having the last 12 cars wait until they couldn’t get a time posted on the board and making a mockery out of qualifying is not what we expect for our fans.”
Following the session, fans in the stands of the Auto Club Speedway clearly booed the “show” that the drivers just put on. It clearly affected the competitors, with everyone from Clint Bowyer to Kyle Busch acknowledging the criticism.
This incident was just the latest edition of NASCAR qualifying showing its ugly flaws. At Las Vegas, both Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott failed to cross the finish line during the final round. The following weekend, Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell got into a confrontation on pit road at ISM Raceway. Suarez claimed McDowell interrupted his lap time, an issue that’s a direct result of NASCAR’s group qualifying system.
“It’s a little bit on us that we hoped things would go better than that,” Miller added. “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 really disappointed.”
With the series headed to Martinsville next weekend, the importance of drafting lessens under a group system. But come Texas Motor Speedway in a few weeks, these old tricks could be at play unless officials commit to major changes.
“I think we will definitely make some tweaks to it, not quite sure what,” Mille said. “We really don’t want to go back to single-car qualifying. There may not be another way. We want to exhaust every possibility before we do that because that’s not as fun, not as intriguing of a show as the group situation.”
NASCAR has been using the group qualifying method since the 2014 spring race at ISM Raceway. Since then, it’s been dropped at the superspeedways. For the sport’s Xfinity and Truck series, it has been dropped at any tracks 1.5 miles or longer.