Kevin Harvick fired back Wednesday at a NASCAR executive for wondering if drivers parked at the end of pit road during group qualifying to force a change back to single-car qualifying.
Harvick made his comments on his “Happy Hours” show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
The show played comments Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, made on Monday’s “The Morning Drive” about qualifying. O’Donnell 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?’ “
After O’Donnell’s comments were played, Harvick was asked how the format can be fixed.
“Well, one way is not to air your dirty laundry on the radio,” Harvick said. “I feel like calling the drivers out and saying that they’re sitting at the end of pit road on purpose is probably not something that you should publicly say even if you think it.
“I wouldn’t flatter yourself with that thinking because of the fact we’re all sitting down there trying to figure out how to be first. I don’t want to be fourth. I want to be first. The best way to be first with this particular rules package is to be last. Qualifying is a drafting game and you have to wait. Nobody wants to go out first. Daniel Suarez went out and made a lap by himself and he was good with being fourth.
“I think as I look at that side of it, our job is, if it’s coming down to NASCAR and the teams trying to outdo themselves, that’s bad for everybody. (O’Donnell) referred to the drivers having a meeting. Those were driver council meetings, private meetings that were held, and I think a lot of us voiced our concern. … We all like group qualifying. Group qualifying is great. You’ve got multiple cars on the race track, you’ve got a lot of things happening, but it doesn’t work when you can draft because you wind up in these situations.”
On changes to make, Harvick said:
“The only way to fix qualifying with cars that draft is to have single-car qualifying on the superspeedways and the mile-and-a-half race tracks. That’s the only way to fix it.
“Any time that you have a draft, the guy in second is going to be faster than the guy in first as long as he’s close enough. That’s one of the unforeseen consequences that have come with this rules package that have impeded qualifying sessions that we’ve had this year at Texas, at (Auto Club) Speedway, at Las Vegas.
“It didn’t happen at Atlanta. I don’t know if that was for handling or we just didn’t know enough at that particular point, but it doesn’t work and we told them it wouldn’t work in September and now we’re kind of getting the finger pointed at us from a drivers standpoint and referred to as trying to sit at the end of pit road and do this on purposes so it will go away. That’s not the case.
“We’re all sitting down there and trying to figure out how we can somehow manage ourself in a hole to be first. That’s really what it’s about. Whatever the rules are, however you want to manage everything, it’s about being first at the end of the day and trying to be the pole-sitter and the best way to do that is to wait until you get in position behind the most amount of cars to be last (in line).”
At Auto Club Speedway, all 12 drivers in the final round failed to complete a lap before time expired because they waited on someone else to go out to lead the draft.
Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said that day: “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.”
After NASCAR sent a memo to teams about changes to how cars are to be aligned on pit road during qualifying, there were still issues last weekend at Texas. Harvick’s teammate, Clint Bowyer, failed to advance from the first round and expressed his displeasure with the format.
“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 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.”
O’Donnell was asked Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about qualifying and what could be done.
“We’re going to look at every option, including the possibility of going to single-car qualifying,” O’Donnell said. “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.”
Asked if he was angered by what’s happened in qualifying, O’Donnell said “absolutely” and added:
“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.”