DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The debut of Daytona 500 group qualifying endured an inauspicious start Sunday with a five-car crash that involved the Toyotas of Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin.
The wreck began when Reed Sorenson tried to block Bowyer. Sorenson’s Chevrolet collided with Bowyer in a pileup that also collected J.J. Yeley, Bobby Labonte and Hamlin (who had posted the fastest lap in the session so far).
Bowyer was upset after the incident, scrambling from his No. 15 Camry and running to Sorenson’s car. As Sorenson unbuckled inside the cockpit, Bowyer screamed and gestured wildly through the window.
He later absolved Sorenson of blame and excoriated NASCAR for the new format.
“It’s idiotic to be out here doing this anyway,” the Michael Waltrip Racing driver said. “There’s no sense of trying to be put on some cute show for whatever the hell this is. Then you’ve got a guy out there in desperation doing this crap. There’s no reason to be out here. These (teams) have spent six months busting their ass on these cars to have some guy out of desperation do that crap.
“But it ain’t (Sorenson’s) fault. It’s NASCAR’s fault for putting us out here in the middle of this crap for nothing. We used to come down here and worry about who was going to sit on the pole for the biggest race of the year. Now all we do is come down here and worry about how a start and park like this out of desperation is going to knock us out of the Daytona 500. We’ve been in meetings for 45 minutes just trying to figure out what everybody has to do to make the race. It’s stupid to be doing this.”
Bowyer isn’t locked into the field of the Great American Race and will need to qualify through Thursday’s Budweiser Duel or risk missing the season opener.
Sorenson, who doesn’t have a backup car for Daytona, apologized for hitting Bowyer.
“I was just trying to block,” Sorenson said. “That’s what got Matt Kenseth the win (in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited). I was doing everything I could to stay in front of Clint. Just a product of this qualifying. We’ll try to get a car and get in the race Thursday.”
Qualifying for the Great American Race previously had been determined by single-car qualifying laps. Last season, NASCAR moved to group qualifying. Sprint Cup teams complained last October after a similar debacle in the most recent restrictor-plate qualifying session at Talladega Superspeedway resulted in full-time drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier missing the race.
“It’s hard to stand behind NASCAR when everybody I talk to up and down pit road doesn’t understand why we’re doing this,” Newman said. “Maybe I need to get sit down and educated about this.
“Not what we wanted for our Caterpillar Chevrolet, no doubt, but we also avoided the next two crashes that come in qualifying, which should never occur.”
Kurt Busch, who finished sixth in the 2014 Indianapolis 500, suggested NASCAR adopt a qualifying format akin to IndyCar’s biggest race.
“We’ve got to find a better system,” Busch said. “So much hard work goes into these cars. Then you have a roulette wheel for qualifying, and it doesn’t seem it’s the proper system.
“We should just (qualify) one car at a time (with a) four-lap average. That would give a sense of pride instead of just shaking up bingo balls.”
Defending series champion Kevin Harvick also failed to advance and expressed his displeasure via Twitter.
As did his teammate Tony Stewart:
Hamlin, whose team managed to fix its damage and advanced to the final session, said group qualifying was “Mayhem. There’s no other word to describe it. Everybody’s on so many different agendas. This stuff can happen. I don’t know, it’s the format we got to go by. We’re going to try to do the best we can to play the system, make it work.”