Could a tweak to NASCAR qualifying be coming? Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief operating officer, hinted so during his appearance Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” show.
Last weekend at Pocono Raceway, Denny Hamlin spun with less than a minute left in the final round. That prevented Hamlin and four other drivers from recording a time in the final round.
NASCAR’s rules state that if more than one driver is unable to complete a lap in a round, their position is determined based on who had the fastest lap in the previous round.
Hamlin had the second-fastest lap in the second round. That placed him ahead of the four other drivers who had yet to record a time in the final round even though Hamlin caused the caution. That policy could change.
“It’s something we are going to look at,’’ O’Donnell said. “In this case is it the right decision to have a driver, not on purpose, cause a caution and therefore they qualify ahead of … drivers who may have not been able to go out and qualify? Some folks could say that’s on them, they should have gone out earlier, but you also look at it if that is the right move. We’re taking a hard look at that this weekend. We’ve had some dialogue with some of the industry and we’ll make a decision here shortly.’’
In other areas:
O’Donnell, who was in the meeting with the drivers council at Dover, said he expects such meetings to take place quarterly. “The drivers council, the first one, I thought was terrific. We’re not always going to agree, but I think you can get some really good input and you can really decipher where you want to go and how that will affect certain teams.’’
O’Donnell again reiterated that talks continue on how to enhance the racing: “It’s a big front-burner (topic). A lot of conversations going on not only from the driver council but also with the teams. You’ll see us do some things here and ratchet up those conversations here in the next 30 days. I think it’s important, though, to really look at what we’re all striving for. These guys are the best in the world. It’s tough to continue to make it better – that’s what we want to do. How do you continue to make that better? How do you continue to allow for more passing? That’s the goal.
“I think everybody understands that. The good news is that entire industry is aligned for what makes the best racing and how do we get there. I think you’ll see some good things continue to develop in terms of what you see on the racetrack.’’
On penalizing teams practice time or making them pick last in pit stall selection for issues in inspection, O’Donnell said: “I think when you look at it, there are certain things we can look at depending on what the warning is. When we look at the inspection process, we want it to relate as much as possible to either the event or the upcoming event. We do use and have used practice time as an element, so that is something that is in place. We elected to put pit selection in and this is the first year of that. We’ll see how that goes and review it at the end of the year. If we need to make some changes we will, but so far I think it’s working fairly well. We’ve got some things that we’ve learned along the way and we’ll adjust where we need to.’’
On the bumps in the tunnel turn at Pocono and the track planning to fix that area before the August race, O’Donnell said: “We’ll either have someone up there when they address it or very soon after and make sure we’re OK with the changes that are made prior to heading back for the weekend. Once we get there, I’m sure we’ll take some drivers out … ahead of time to look at it to make sure everything is in place.’’
On foreign venues that NASCAR could entertain for taking the sport (O’Donnell was at the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series event last weekend at Brands Hatch Circuit in Kent, England), he said: “I think we look at not necessarily where we can put a race and leave. That’s really not our model. Where we’ve been successful is really starting from a grassroots effort like you’ve seen in Mexico, where we have a successful tour and we can see some drivers come up in the system, similarly in Canada and now that’s what is happening in Europe. I say maybe taking some of our national series drivers over from time to time to help seed those series and the growth would be important for us. As you look, South America certainly an area that we’d like to emerge and China and India, not necessarily right away, but I think when you look at a lot of the partners and especially the (car manufacturers), certainly growth areas. We’ll take a look at those as well. First and foremost for us, it’s concentrating on the U.S. and making sure we have the best thing going every Sunday here in the United States.’’