LONG POND, Pa. — It’s not a novel concept, qualifying shortly before a race, but it is new to Cup teams, so it’s natural that competitors have concerns heading into Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Cup teams will qualify at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:18 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Qualifying and racing on the same day is common in the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series, but not to Cup.
Cup teams also will qualify and race on the same day at Watkins Glen and Martinsville. The purpose of shortening race weekends is to give crews more time at home and help teams cut travel costs. If it works, more races could see this schedule. With no track action on Friday, tracks are holding fan fests with Cup drivers.
As Cup teams prepare to qualify and race on the same day, there’s some anxiety.
“I’m not crazy about qualifying Sunday,’’ said Matt Kenseth, who had the fastest lap in the opening practice session Saturday. “I’d rather qualify Saturday night. Especially Watkins Glen. Just with shifting and all that stuff. Backup cars aren’t allowed to have engines in them. If you have something go wrong that close to the race and got to get a backup car out, or miss a shift and got to put an engine in it or something, you’re really flirting with not even being able to start the race.
“I guess that’s the part that probably concerns me the most. I like the idea of two-day shows and the condensed scheduled. If it’s me, I’d rather qualify on Saturday night or much earlier on Sunday.’’
Said Ryan Newman: “The biggest question mark is if you tear a car up, you’ve got to have time to get the backup out. We’ll see. They’ve, I guess, tried to put their best educated guess of what time we need to cover all bases and, hopefully, we don’t have to cover all bases.’’
Even with the challenges, Kevin Harvick said the move to this type of schedule is good for teams.
“It saves the guys a lot of work in the garage,’’ he said. “It saves the teams a lot of money from dumping oils and putting on brake rotors and all the things we do to the cars. I like how we’re trying to clean all this up and adding this type of fan event is something we can do every week.’’
The challenge for teams will be to have a setup that qualifies well but is better in the race.
“Having to qualify in race trim with just impounded adjustments, it’s going to be really tricky to figure it out,’’ Martin Truex Jr. said. “It’s going to be handful, I’m sure.’’
After qualifying, teams will only be able to do the following to their car when accompanied by a NASCAR official:
• Plug in oil heater.
• Turn Master Switch ON/OFF.
• Open Hood.
• Open oil cooler bypass valve.
• Cool down unit lines may be removed
• Set cooling system level. (may add water manually or with the cool down unit)
• Add or remove tape