NASCAR might return to single-car qualifying on drafting tracks

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After another controversial group qualifying session on a drafting-style track, NASCAR chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said a return to single-car qualifying is being considered.

“We’re going to look at every option, including the possibility of going to single-car qualifying,” O’Donnell said in his weekly Monday interview on SiriusXM NASCAR’s “The Morning Drive” program. “The reason we haven’t is that’s on the teams. That’s parts and pieces. We’ve tried to be as efficient as possible trying this method of (group) qualifying.

“But we’re definitely going to look at it and see what we can do. We’ve got a couple of weeks to do that. We’ll make adjustments as needed.”

A NASCAR spokesman said discussions of any potential changes have yet to occur. A move to single-car qualifying likely would happen only on drafting tracks. Group qualifying has worked at short tracks such as Bristol Motor Speedway (site of Sunday’s race) where drafting doesn’t happen.

The next track at which group qualifying could be problematic is Kansas Speedway, which will play host May 11 to the Cup Series. NASCAR already has been using single-car qualifying at Talladega Superspeedway (site of the April 28 race) for a few years.

When the lower-horsepower 2019 rules package created more drafting at larger speedways aside from Talladega and Daytona International Speedway, there was speculation that NASCAR would tweak group qualifying (which made its debut five years ago) at those tracks.

But citing the need for “show business” in qualifying, officials have resisted calls for change this season despite debacles at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Auto Club Speedway (where there were no recorded speeds in the final round) and most recently last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Despite new rules to incentivize teams, the Friday session still resulted in controversy.

Clint Bowyer was particularly upset with NASCAR after feeling he was blocked in by Ryan Newman during the session. Bowyer playfully chided officials about it after finishing second Sunday at Texas.

Drivers have spent nearly the entire final round of each session waiting idle in the pits because the first car to leave is at a disadvantage without a drafting partner (though Daniel Suarez qualified fourth as a single car at Texas).

The strategy results in long periods of inactivity during qualifying.

“It’s really unfortunate for the fans,” O’Donnell said Monday. “It’s miraculous that Daniel Suarez is able to make a lap on his own and qualify fourth, so I don’t know how that’s possible based on all the data the teams seem to be putting together to sit on the end of pit road and wait.

“I think the one clarification on our end, we instructed (Newman) to move. He did that. I think Clint Bowyer could have gotten out and gotten past (Newman), but regardless of that, the optics of what is taking place with the teams is not tenable for us with the fans.”

Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick weighed in with a suggestion Monday morning.

O’Donnell replied “absolutely” when asked whether he was angered by the incessant controversy and openly wondered whether drivers were trying to subvert the process.

“I think it’s ridiculous, candidly,” he said. “I know the drivers did not like this qualifying before the season. Part of you says, ‘Are we doing this on purpose to get rid of it?’ I know it can be done. I know we have the best drivers in the world and crew chiefs to figure it out. We seem to want to outdo each other, and that results in sitting on pit road.

“We’ll react to it. We’ll make the right call and get it right. We don’t want to see cars sitting on pit road for 8 minutes. That’s not NASCAR racing. We’ll make the fix there.”

O’Donnell said any switch would be met by resistance from team owners who lobbied for group qualifying to help hold down costs. A move to single-car qualifying would mean teams focusing on more expensive and specialized parts and pieces.

“If we have to go back to single car, simple,” he said. “We’ll do that. It won’t be popular with some of the owners, but unfortunately, we’re getting put in this position.”

In an interview 45 minutes later on “The Morning Drive”, crew chief Todd Gordon said he liked the current system of group qualifying on drafting tracks, suggesting it needed better elucidation.

“The problem is we’re not explaining what the strategies are, what the pieces are,” said Gordon, the crew chief for Joey Logano. “I like it. If the fan base or NASCAR doesn’t like it, we’ll adapt to what’s next.”

Sitting idle for long stretches during qualifying is just part of the strategy, Gordon said.

“It’s not that we’re doing something deviant,” he said. “We’re doing something that’s been laid out by NASCAR. … That’s the biggest problem. We haven’t done a good job to explain to our fan base, our TV partners, our radio partners what’s going on and what the strategy is and what the rules are.

“There’s a structure here, and we maximize our opportunity as it unfolds.”

Brandon Jones rallies late to earn first career Xfinity race at Kansas

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After starting from the No. 2 position, Brandon Jones roared back late to win his first career Xfinity Series race Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

With the win, the 22-year-old Jones, who was knocked out of the playoffs after the Dover elimination race, still had an impact on how the Round of 8 began.

Jones was in the right place at the right time, taking advantage of late-race misfortune to Chase Briscoe and pole sitter Christopher Bell, who were involved in a wreck with Garrett Smithley with 16 laps to go in the 200-lap event.

Equally as important was the great restart Jones got with four laps to go following another late caution that involved Joey Gase and Noah Gragson.

Tyler Reddick finished second, followed by Briscoe, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier.

It was not the opening race of the Round of 8 that Briscoe nor Bell were looking for. While Bell led 70 laps and Briscoe 33, their significant efforts were quickly derailed with 16 laps to go.

Briscoe was in the lead, with Bell right behind, when Briscoe tried to pass Garrett Smithley, who was five laps down at the time. But instead of yielding the high lines on the track to Briscoe and Bell, Smithley washed up the track and Briscoe could not avoid contact, nor could Bell avoid contract with Briscoe.

Briscoe finished third, while Bell finished 12th.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell (18th stage win of season)

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer (eighth stage win of season)

We’ll have more information, including results and points, as well as driver quotes and more shortly. Please check back.

Kyle Larson injured ribs in ‘probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had’

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kyle Larson says he plans to drive the full distance Sunday at Kansas Speedway despite injuring his ribs in “probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had.”

Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet ran into the No. 88 Chevy of Alex Bowman near the end of the second stage of Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway (video above).

Though the Chip Ganassi Racing driver hasn’t had an X-ray, Larson doesn’t think he broke his ribs, but they were hurting enough to require an icing after two Friday practices at Kansas. Larson posted a photo to his Instagram Story of his wrapped midsection with the caption, “Big fan of Super Speedways.”

Because everybody says there really is nothing you can do about ribs anyway,” Larson said when asked why he hadn’t gotten an X-ray. “It’s not broken. It definitely hurts to sneeze and cough, and when I’m in the seat, it’s tender. I’ve never broken a bone, but it’s definitely not broken.

Though he already has secured a spot in the third round of the Cup playoffs through his Oct. 6 victory at Dover International Speedway, Larson said he will run the 400 miles Sunday.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said after qualifying fifth Saturday, pausing to smile. “As long as I don’t hit the wall or anything. It should be fine.”

Larson also crashed in the April 28 race at Talladega, going airborne and rolling several times in a wreck that was reviewed by NASCAR.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup playoff elimination race at Kansas

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Daniel Hemric will own prime real estate when the green flag drops for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Hemric, who it was announced Sept. 17 that he would not return to drive the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing next season, captured his first career Cup pole Saturday.

Cup veteran driver David Ragan, who announced August 14 that he will be retiring from full-time competition after this season, will start alongside Hemric on the front row.

The rest of the first five rows for Sunday’s race will be Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski in Row 2, Kyle Larson and Michael McDowell in Row 3, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez in Row 4 and Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace in Row 5.

Kevin Harvick failed pre-qualifying inspection and did not make a qualifying attempt. He will start Sunday’s race last in the 40-car field.

This will be the second elimination race of the 10-race playoffs. The playoff field will be reduced from 12 to eight drivers.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Kevin Harvick to start at the rear after team passes inspection, then fails

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kevin Harvick will start at the rear of Sunday’s Cup race after his team found an issue with its car and went though inspection after having passed it previously.

Harvick enters the race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 36 points ahead of Alex Bowman, who is the first driver outside a transfer spot. Sunday’s race will cut the playoff field from 12 to eight drivers.

Harvick’s No. 4 Ford failed its first attempt in inspection before qualifying Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

The team passed the second time but then found an issue with the car and made an adjustment. By doing so, the team had to go back through inspection. That meant that the second attempt — which the team had passed — then counted as a failure. NASCAR ejected a crew member (the team’s car chief) and docked the team 15 minutes of practice next week at Martinsville.

The team then went through a third time and failed. Teams are not allowed to attempt to qualify after a third failure. Harvick’s team also lost an additional 15 minutes of practice next week at Martinsville.

Here’s how crew chief Rodney Childers explained to NBC Sports what happened:

“We went through tech the first time, the back of the decklid was like 10 (thousandths of an inch) too low, which that is on us. Everybody pushes that as much as they can at a place like this. We raised the decklid and went back through and passed and everything was fine.

“As we were pushing it back to the garage, you could feel something just barely, barely ticking … on the body as you were pushing it. We got back to the garage and looked up under the back and the weight on the driveshaft was just barely at the tunnel, the driveshaft tunnel. So we kind of stood around for 30 minutes trying to decide should we just kind of go for it and hope it doesn’t become a problem or should we just fix it. Looking back on it maybe we should have just went for it, but we voluntarily went back and through tech and fixed it and then failed right rear toe by .03.

“When you’re doing big changes like that … you’ve got to lengthen the track bar out a couple of rounds. When you lengthen the track bar out a couple of lengths, since the day I stated Cup racing, if you did the track bar two rounds, you did the slug an eighth of an inch. That’s what we did. Then we failed right rear toe.

“It’s disappointing. It was a decision we made to try to be safe and not  have a problem in the race or anything like that. The biggest disappointment is just having to start in the back over something we did voluntarily. That’s what is disappointing.

“I think everybody in this garage would vote for each other and have each other’s back so that if you found a problem on your car and you went back through voluntarily that’s on the team and not counted as a failure. I don’t think that’s right.”

Childers said starting at the rear will be a challenge.

“That’s what we didn’t want to do (start at the rear),” he said. “I hate that it turned out that way. Our car has been fast all weekend. We’ve just got to get back up there and get some stage points and do all the right things. I’m sure he can pass 20 of them in the first five laps and hopefully get up there and contend as best we can.”

Harvick didn’t express too much concern about his situation.

It’s like I’ve talked from the very beginning, you deal with the situations as they approach you,” Harvick said. “It doesn’t matter if it this is the first race or an elimination race. You go about the circumstances that you are dealt. This is why I always tell you guys you just never know what the circumstances are going to be and you have to adopt and adjust as they present themselves.”