NASCAR Sprint Cup spotters react to new qualifying format at restrictor-plate races


Chris Lambert has had a very happy 24 hours.

The spotter for Denny Hamlin guided the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to Victory Lane in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, giving the organization its first Sprint Cup win last May’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Also, NASCAR announced Monday morning its new qualifying format for restrictor-place races in all three national series.

Lambert was a guest on MRN’s “Motorsports Monday” show and shared his thoughts on the format, which he had just learned about.

“I’ll be honest, that probably makes me just as happy as winning the race yesterday,” Lambert said. “We’re all pretty vocal on the (spotter) roof about different things, especially when it comes to the safety factor. Because that’s our job, we are a safety device. The No. 1 safety device if you ask me.

“Seeing your guys out there and putting their stuff in situations that, in a race, you know most of the time they typically wouldn’t do just because it is so dangerous, is not fun,” Lambert continued. “With the wrecks we’ve had at restrictor-plate races, qualifying this year so far for the (Xfinity) race and the Cup race, that’s perfect. I applaud NASCAR for going that route.”

Lambert has reason to applaud.

Hamlin himself was involved in a crash during group qualifying for the Daytona 500 in February. At the time Hamlin said “mayhem” was the best way to describe the format.

“Everybody’s on so many different agendas,” Hamlin said.  “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.”

One of the co-hosts of “Motorsports Monday” is Joey Meier, the spotter for Brad Keselowski who finished second to Hamlin on Sunday. Meier gave his thoughts on the format change.

“The risk-reward was such a swing on what we were doing during qualifying in the fiasco of always wanting to be the last car off pit road and first car off pit road,” said Meier, describing the new one-lap per driver format as simple and quick with its “just gets the process over with.”

Meier also said that with a 36-race schedule, teams can deal with qualifying at a handful of them being “boring.” He also doesn’t believe many of his fellow spotter would disagree with him.

“I’m willing to bet, of the 43 spotters, you might get two or three guys (who like group qualifying) because the guys in the back had a chance to do better just in qualifying,” Meier said.

“It’s a stressful situation, it’s a dangerous  situation that really served … all we’re doing is qualifying,” Meier said. “These guys put on a heck of a race. I love spotting Daytona and Talladega. Literally, one of my top two or three tracks out of all of the race tracks we go to. I love it. The group qualifying was on the other side of love. Whatever word is on the other side of love, that’s where I’m at with group qualifying.”

The new format will debut for the May 3 Geico 500 at Talladega. Xfinity qualifying is scheduled for 10 a.m. ET on May 2 there. Sprint Cup qualifying is scheduled for noon ET that day.