Who will be fastest under the new (old?) qualifying format?
This week, in what looks to be the series finale of General Qualifying, NASCAR has finally decided to stop pouring Coca-Cola on a bullet wound and has reinstated single-car qualifying.
Multi-round qualifying is dead, and group qualifying is done everywhere except for road courses in all three national touring series. Big tracks (more than 1.25 miles in length) will have teams make just one qualifying lap, while smaller tracks will give teams a second hot lap if they choose to take one.
Although it would have been smarter for NASCAR to simply stop group qualifying at big racetracks, this was probably the correct move. Standardizing the rules and making everything less complicated is going to make it easier for fans to know what’s going on; imagine how many tweets Bob Pockrass would get every Friday asking if it was group- or single-car qualifying that week.
The only thing to nitpick is NASCAR’s method of determining the order of qualifying. The last 20 cars out in the session will be randomly assigned to the top 20 in the last race of that series. It’d probably be easier to line them up in reverse order of practice speeds or owners point standings if practice is rained out, but ultimately that doesn’t really matter.
However, in some ways, the ends do not justify the means to this solution.
Will NASCAR ever become more credible?
If there’s one thing made apparent over the past month, it’s that NASCAR has a credibility issue.
“One of the things we wanted to hold true to is not to go back to single-car qualifying,” Scott Miller, NASCAR svp of competition, said following a disastrous qualifying session at Auto Club Speedway in March. “Single-car qualifying is two things – it’s boring and it’s expensive. It also doesn’t create a good show. Anytime we go on the track, it should be a show. Certainly, we are in, first and foremost, the racing business. But we’re also in show business. We definitely have to provide our fans with something that’s intriguing to watch and gets them excited about coming back and watching the race.”
So why should any fan want to tune in now to qualifying? The sanctioning body just said less than 40 days ago that single-car qualifying is boring. This is why you do not publicly disparage possible solutions to a problem, as you in effect burn a bridge of credibility when doing so.
Now that NASCAR has decided the only way to solve this problem is to cross that burnt bridge, it’s lost integrity doing so. And keep in mind that there was absolutely no reason for Miller to make this statement or for NASCAR to include it in its initial press release announcing the move.
I also asked Scott Miller if NASCAR felt that teams were to blame for group qualifying not working — something drivers have suggested. He said that they recognize that "competitors … work in their own best interests." Miller feels NASCAR never really blamed the teams.
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) May 1, 2019
This is a funny statement, considering that Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s evp and chief racing development officer, blamed the teams last month following Texas Motor Speedway qualifying.
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) April 1, 2019
One thing you may have noticed reading so far is just how much NASCAR has alluded to show business when it comes to qualifying. It’s all a show, we’re in show business, etc. And this isn’t a new thing.
What’s going to happen in Cup qualifying this year? Well…aside from shortening the rounds, they’re going to keep it the same even though they can draft now!
“We’re in show business,” NASCAR’s Scott Miller says.
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) February 4, 2019
In fact, it isn’t just a qualifying thing.
What about the drivers who tear up their cars in postrace celebrations?
NASCAR’s Scott Miller: “We’re in show business. Fans like burnouts.” But … “If there’s habitual offenders of that, that’s not going to be OK.”@odsteve: “We’d like to stay out of that.”
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) February 4, 2019
Notice how in none of these statements is the word sport used. It’s because we’re not talking about what’s good for the sport (and thus credibility), it’s about the show! Watch all of these cars scrambling onto the racetrack! Don’t stop dancin’!
And then NASCAR gets offended when people criticize it and call it fake. Or when media commentators don’t consider it a sport.
Well, NASCAR can’t really have it both ways, can it? Sports are shows and show business, don’t get me wrong. Sports depend on people being excited to watch them. But at the same time, every other sanctioning body/league has a better time walking the fine line between both than NASCAR. And sports executives do not call their product show business out in public. Imagine if the NFL made a rule change and explained that “we’re show business” and the ridicule it would face from the public.
There are ways to explain this concept to the general public — “we’re trying to make our sport more exciting to watch” or “we’re making our sport more watchable.” But no truly valid sports organization outright says this is all show business, and if it were to do so, it’d be hard to take it seriously.
And because stuff like this has been going on for years in NASCAR, it has either no or low credibility with hardcore racing fans or hardcore sports fans.
Who will win the special golden Monster trophies?
2019 marks 50 years of racing at Dover International Speedway. The Monster Mile is one of the most unique racetracks in the sport. A concrete mile oval, things can go from zero to 100 there in just a couple of restarts due to how narrow and fast the track is.
It’s also played host to some great moments in the sport’s history, with my two favorites being Jody Ridley’s surprise win in 1981 for owner Junie Donlavey (which was Donlavey’s lone win in 50 years of fielding Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars) and Joey Logano flipping in 2009.
As far as who can win this weekend, the field is wide open. Kyle Busch is a threat everywhere the Cup Series visits, but Martin Truex Jr. should never be counted out at his home track. Kevin Harvick has an all-or-nothing track record at Dover; he always unloads fast on raceday and either wins walking away like in 2014 or something dumb stops the No. 4 Ford from competing for a win.
Kyle Larson is going to be back in the saddle again this weekend. Dover is perhaps his best racetrack he hasn’t been able to win at, and the pressure is now on for the California driver following his flip at Tallladega Superspeedway. Speaking of:
Will FOX be able to capture all of the action in this weekend’s races?
What else is there to say about this?
FOX Sports pays NASCAR a lot of money every year, like a lottery-sized amount, in order to have to rights to cover races. And yet, somehow, it didn’t have a camera that caught Larson flipping?
In what was probably one of the more spectacular shots of the season, FOX missed the boat and instead focused on the race for the lead, even though it was all but over once NASCAR waved the caution flag.
I feel awful for the camera operator in this instance. They’ve probably gotten a lot of grief about this internally and externally over the past week. But ultimately, it’s FOX’s fault for not having another camera there to capture a wreck, which we all know never happens on the last lap of a superspeedway.
Hopefully this isn’t a problem that comes up again as we begin to reach the homestretch for FOX’s coverage of NASCAR this season. If it does, FOX might have bigger problems than who will replace Darrell Waltrip to work out this coming offseason.