FONTANA, Calif. — NASCAR plans to make changes to qualifying within the next two weeks after all 12 Cup drivers failed to complete a lap before time expired in the final round, making what one series executive said was “a mockery out of the qualifying.”
Scott Miller, senior vice president of competition, expressed his disappointment with what happened Friday at Auto Club Speedway.
“I saw obviously what our fans don’t want, obviously, having the last 12 cars wait until they couldn’t get a time posted on the board and kind of making a mockery out of the qualifying is not what we expect for our fans,” Miller said. “It’s a little bit on us that we hoped things would go better than that. It’s an exciting show when they’re out there on the race track but obviously we have a little work to do on our part to get a little bit better format so things like that can’t happen.
“We certainly want to provide our fans with what they deserve and we and the teams didn’t do a very good job of that today, so we’re really disappointed.”
The issue Friday was that no driver wanted to be first on track. No one wanted to be second. Or third. They all wanted to be last on the track to get the best draft from the rest of the field. But drivers waited too long and no one made it to the start/finish line before time expired to run a lap. Austin Dillon, who was fastest in the second round, won the pole since results reverted to the last completed round of qualifying.
“Don’t hate the player,” Kyle Busch said. “Hate the game.”
And fans did, according to Clint Bowyer.
“We just got booed,” Bowyer said. “It’s disappointing. It’s disappointing for everybody involved. I don’t know. I saw this coming three weeks ago. I think we all did. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to be reactive to it instead of proactive. We’ll get through.
“It’s just a learning process. The whole package is a learning process. Everybody knows that going in. Everybody has been patient with it. I’m a little bit out of patience with Fridays.”
Asked if this would mean the end of group qualifying — particularly at tracks where drafting is key — Miller said:
“I think we will definitely make some tweaks to it, not quite sure what. … We really don’t want to go back to single-car qualifying. There may not be another way. We want to exhaust every possibility before we do that because that’s not as fun, not as intriguing of a show as the group situation.”
The series heads to Martinsville Speedway next weekend. Drafting is not an issue there, giving NASCAR more time to devise a solution. The series then goes Texas Motor Speedway and changes will likely be made by then.
But what to do?
Miller didn’t say. Drivers weren’t sure after the bizarre final round.
“Do you draft up until the final session and then we can go one by one?” Denny Hamlin said. “I don’t know. I don’t know if that is the answer or not.”