FORT WORTH, Texas — After more complaints from drivers about group qualifying Friday, a NASCAR official said the sanctioning body would do “whatever steps we have to to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again.”
Confusion, chaos and consternation were the themes of a Cup qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway that ended with Jimmie Johnson on the pole, Clint Bowyer upset and others raising questions about NASCAR’s officiating.
Jay Fabian, Cup managing series director, said series officials would look at all options after making some tweaks earlier this week to the format.
“We’re obviously disappointed with what happened,” Fabian said. “We’re disappointed with what we saw. Nobody deserves to see that. Our fans don’t deserve it. We’re going to take whatever steps we have to to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again. Pretty much everything is on the table as far as what we’ll do moving forward.”
Fabian explained what he was disappointed with.
“It’s disappointed that they sit out there (on pit road) as long as they do,” he said. “It’s disappointing that they give reasons why they don’t go and then someone goes and they choose to not follow them. A lot of what they say doesn’t add up with their actions on pit road. That’s the disappointing part. When you see someone roll, you would assume that somebody would follow them and they chose not to.”
With the series headed to Bristol and Richmond the next two weeks and then a weekend off for Easter, NASCAR has time to decide what to do. At short tracks, drivers are not waiting to go out in groups because drafting is not as important as it is on bigger tracks. Earlier Friday, Landon Cassill said he went more than three tenths of a second quicker in practice when he was in a draft as opposed to running on the track alone.
Bowyer was furious after he failed to advance from the first round and will start 25th.
“I guess this is a make-up-the-rules-as-we-go event in qualifying,” Bowyer said. “It’s sad. Those people up (in the stands) there paid a lot of money to bring their families here and watch a qualifying sessions and people try to go out and do their best. You’re just sitting around (on pit road) and waiting because you only know your best is good enough if the guy in front of you does a good job. That’s not qualifying.”
What can be done?
“Learn from your mistakes,” Bowyer said. “That’s how you get better. Learn from your mistakes. We already had this failure and here we are doing it again. Come on.”
Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola were among those who said they were confused by how NASCAR officiated the cars on pit road. NASCAR stated earlier this week that cars stopped on pit road had to leave a middle lane for others to pass by. But some drivers complained the middle got clogged when many tried to go at once and questioned NASCAR not penalizing anyone.
“I learned some things today,” Almirola said. “I learned that we can clog the middle and that’s OK, and they’re not going to enforce that and they won’t penalize anybody for that, which I thought was going to be pretty strictly enforced, especially this weekend with the new rules rolled out. I’m confused.”
Said Harvick: “You just can’t qualify these cars this way. I love group qualifying, but I just laughed all the way out to the race track.”
Reigning series champion Joey Logano said he’s fine with the format.
“Who said there’s a problem? That’s my opinion,” Logano said. “I think it’s entertaining. There’s a lot to talk about for you guys. You guys all have microphones out and there’s a lot to talk about, so I think it’s OK. There’s a lot of action and it all happens very, very quick. Maybe the biggest problem is how you show it on TV. That might be really hard to do because there is so much action happening at one time. I don’t see how a camera can get it all, but outside of that I think there’s a lot going on.”
Daniel Suarez will start fourth. He advanced from the second round by running by himself. While the rest of the cars were stopped in two lanes on pit road, Suarez drove between them to cheers of the crowd and advanced without the help of a draft.
“I knew my car was fast enough to make it to the last round,” Suarez said. “I was not surprised (anyone followed him on to the track). They were shutting (their engines off) when I was going. That was the plan.”
Chase Elliot said “there were just more rules to think about. As we create rules, we tend to create complication. I get the end goal of making everybody go, which it did, everybody made a lap. So I guess making the rules was good. Hopefully it was entertaining.”