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Long: What NASCAR does with qualifying isn’t the biggest question

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FONTANA, Calif. — So what next?

What is NASCAR to do to fix a “mockery” of qualifying – a series executive’s comment — after all 12 Cup drivers in the final round waited too long to get on track Friday and failed to complete a lap before time expired?

The suggestions flow. Go back to single-car qualifying. Heat races. Make cars that don’t complete a lap in the final round start at the rear. Have group qualifying for two rounds but make the final round single-car qualifying. Send cars out at timed intervals.

Before NASCAR can set a course, other questions must be asked.

The first question is what’s more important for NASCAR? Is this about entertainment or competition?

Entertainment is critical to a sport that seeks to rebuild its fan base. Close racing, drama and excitement can energize a fans attract new ones.

The past three weeks of Cup qualifying has been appointment viewing. There was the unknown of what would happen at Las Vegas with the rules package, the fight between Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell at ISM Raceway and then what would happen Friday at Auto Club Speedway. When is the last time there has been so much interest in qualifying for three consecutive races?

But is that interest based on too many gimmicks?

When NASCAR announced its rule changes in early February, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer told the media: “Our core goal in everything we do is to deliver the best possible racing for our fans.”

O’Donnell also said that day that “the stars of NASCAR have always been the drivers and the cars. We want to make sure that is the emphasis in any rules package we put forth.”

But there appears to be a limit. In discussing the group qualifying model in that same meeting, Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, said: “One thing that we realize and everybody in this room realizes is that we’re in show business.”

After Friday’s episode in the last round of qualifying, Miller said that while changes will be made to the format, “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.”

Drivers and teams are frustrated. They feel they have less control in the group qualifying format. Some would suggest that there’s too much randomness to how the starting lineup is set. It’s more about getting the right draft at tracks 1.5 miles and larger than having a car with the most speed on its own.

“I told you all back in Vegas that I am still a big fan of single-car qualifying,” Ryan Newman, told NBC Sports after being among those who failed to complete a lap in the final round Friday. “That is all I need to say, really. That is the way qualifying should be.”

Said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch: “The last car has the biggest advantage and you’re a buffoon to go out and be the first car.”

Beyond the entertainment/competition question, other questions must be asked: What is the role of the sanctioning body? Should it be about penalizing infractions or creating opportunities for competitors to excel?

At Las Vegas, David Ragan started sixth for Front Row Motorsports. The organization had two top-10 starts last year (Bristol and Daytona) but none at a 1.5-mile track. The group qualifying format helped created an opportunity for that organization to attain a strong starting spot.

Without such chances might that team have qualified as high? Is it fair to do away with such opportunities for that and other teams?

“It’s hard to control every single thing in our sport,” Ragan told NBC Sports. “There needs to be a little bit of randomness. That makes things creative.”

But Ragan also noted that “we need to keep the integrity of the sport.”

So should NASCAR create a rule — another rule to anger those who say the rule book has too many entries — that penalizes teams for not completing a lap in the final round and make them start at the back? Or is there another way to deal with this situation before teams arrive in Texas in two weeks?

Those are among the questions NASCAR must answer before deciding what changes to make to qualifying.

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Rain washes out Xfinity practices, Truck race at Iowa

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UPDATE AS OF 9:30 p.m. ET:

NASCAR officials tried but Mother Nature refused to cooperate in stopping rain around Iowa Speedway Saturday evening.

As a result, the M&Ms 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race has been postponed until Sunday. The green flag will drop shortly after Noon ET (to be televised on FS1 and on radio on Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Qualifying for Sunday’s Xfinity Series race is slated for 2:35 p.m. ET (FS2, no radio), while the CircuitCity.com 250 Xfinity race will go off shortly after 5:30 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

UPDATE AS OF 9 p.m. ET:

The start of tonight’s M&Ms 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway has been delayed due to weather.

However, the heavy rain has stopped and track drying efforts are underway.

We will continue to monitor the situation and give you updates as they become available.

UPDATE AS OF 7:15 p.m. ET: 

After bad weather prompted NASCAR officials to shorten the first of two Xfinity Series practices at Iowa Speedway, the second and final Xfinity practice has now been cancelled.

NASCAR is still hoping the weather relents to get the scheduled M&Ms 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in tonight. The green flag is slated to fall at 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1 and MRN/SiriusXM).

Qualifying for Sunday’s CircuitCity.com 250 Xfinity race is still slated for tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET, with the green flag set for shortly after 5 p.m. ET. The weather forecast looks good, according to wunderground.com.

We’ll keep you updated with any changes as they become available.

ORIGINAL STORY:

For the second time today, weather has interrupted activities of both the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Iowa Speedway.

Earlier this afternoon, rain forced the cancellation of qualifying for tonight’s M&Ms 200 Truck Series race. The weather also pushed back the start of the first of two Xfinity practices.

In addition to lightning being seen near the racetrack, the area in and around Newton, Iowa is under a thunderstorm watch. That prompted NASCAR officials to stop the first Xfinity practice, which had been already rescheduled once to go from 5:30 p.m. to 6:25 p.m. ET, to be shortened with 25 minutes of time remaining.

Harrison Burton was the fastest driver (130.192 mph) in the Xfinity pack before the session was stopped due to the approaching bad weather.

Second through 10th-fastest were Christopher Bell (130.112 mph), Austin Cindric (130.063), Noah Gragson (129.977), Cole Custer (129.817), Chase Briscoe (128.935), Zane Smith (128.892), Tyler Reddick (128.834), John Hunter Nemechek (128.687) and Justin Allgaier (128.629).

Click here for the results from the abbreviated first Xfinity practice.

A second Xfinity practice is due to take place from 7 to 7:50 p.m., followed by tonight’s main event, the Truck Series race at 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1 and MRN/SiriusXM). However, weather radar to the north and west of the track is not looking promising at this point.

We’ll update as more information on the conditions becomes available.

Rain cancels Truck qualifying at Iowa, delays Xfinity first practice

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Rain has forced the cancellation of today’s NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series qualifying at Iowa Speedway.

In addition, the first of two Xfinity Series practice sessions, slated to be held from 3:05 to 3:55 p.m. ET has been postponed until 5:30 p.m. ET, and will run until 6:25 p.m. ET. The second Xfinity practice is still set to go at its original scheduled time of 7 to 7:50 p.m. ET.

The 7/8-mile oval in Newton, Iowa is currently being dried and NASCAR hopes to get the remainder of today’s activities in, including tonight’s M&Ms 200 Truck Series race, slated to take the green flag at 8:30 p.m. ET.

The starting lineup for the Trucks race has been set by the NASCAR rule book. That means Chandler Smith — making his first-ever career start in a Truck, and who was fastest in the first of two practice sessions earlier today before the rain came — will start on the pole for tonight’s race. Smith (photo) is driving the No. 51 Toyota Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Tonight’s race is also the second event in the three-race Triple Truck Challenge; the race winner will receive a $50,000 bonus.

Click here for the starting lineup for tonight’s Truck Series race (televised on FS1 and on radio on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Kyle Larson dominates en route to Ohio Sprintweek feature win in Ohio

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It may be an off-weekend for the rest of the drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series, but not for Kyle Larson.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver won the feature event Friday night in the Ohio Sprintweek race at Ohio’s Attica Raceway Park. Larson won the All-Star Circuit of Champions Series race by more than seven seconds, having lapped half the 25-car field by the time he took the checkered flag.

Dale Blaney, uncle of NASCAR Cup driver Ryan Blaney, finished second, followed by Buddy Kofoid.

Larson has now won his last three sprint car race starts. He goes for four in a row tonight as Sprintweek continues.

 

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Truck Series practice report from Iowa

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Sheldon Creed was fastest in the second and final Truck Series practice Saturday at Iowa Speedway.

Creed covered the 7/8-mile paved oval in Newton, Iowa, at 134.283 mph.

Raphael Lessard was second-fastest (133.588 mph), followed by Austin Hill (133.446), Harrison Burton (133.367) and Brett Moffitt (133.299).

Sixth through 10th were Ben Rhodes (133.237), Johnny Sauter (133.114), Riley Herbst (132.839), Stewart Friesen (132.788 mph) and Brennan Poole (132.743).

Chandler Smith, who was fastest in the first practice session earlier in the morning – and in his first-ever Truck Series practice – was 18th fastest in the second session (131.678 mph).

Qualifying takes place later this afternoon at 5:35 p.m., and the day’s main event, the M&Ms 200, takes place tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1 and MRN).

Click here for the full speed chart from the second practice session.

FIRST PRACTICE SESSION:

Just over 12 hours after winning the ARCA race at Madison International Speedway in Wisconsin, Chandler Smith kicked off his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut in outstanding fashion Saturday morning, being the fastest of the 32 drivers that took to the 7/8-mile oval at Iowa Speedway in the first of two practice sessions.

Driving the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra, the 16-year-old Georgia native topped the field with a best lap of 136.046 mph, more than 1.5 mph faster than second-fastest Brett Moffitt (134.506 mph).

Third-fastest was Raphael Lessard (134.380 mph), followed by Sheldon Creed (133.832 mph) and Harrison Burton (132.945 mph).

Sixth through 10th were Tyler Dippel (132.643 mph), Austin Hill (132.620), Matt Crafton (132.281), Stewart Friesen (132.253) and Todd Gilliland (132.220).

The second and final practice session of the day will go from 11:30 a.m. to 12:55 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full speed chart from the first Trucks practice session.

Follow @JerryBonkowski