Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?
It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.
While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.
It became a game of who would blink first and take off.
When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.
“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.
“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.
“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”
Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.
What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.
Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.
These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.
But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.
What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.
Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.
Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.
That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?
The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.
This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.
“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.
“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”
There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.
For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.
The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.
The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.
Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.
Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).
They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.
The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.
Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:
Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.
The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.
According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.
The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.
4. First time in new garages at Phoenix
ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.
Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.
Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.
So what is NASCAR? Is it a sport? Or is it a show?
Admittedly, those in the NASCAR offices likely will view its racing as both. But that creates a conflict over how to look at Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.
If one views it as a sporting event, Stewart-Haas Racing’s domination — qualifying all of its cars in the top four, running there much of the race and Aric Almirola winning with Clint Bowyer second — should be celebrated because SHR did what every team hopes to do every weekend.
But that performance doesn’t play well to the overall view of the race (or show). With SHR controlling the front and drivers battling ill-handling cars, the two- and three-wide racing so common at Talladega often was replaced by single-file racing.
The 15 lead changes were the fewest at Talladega since 1973.
Green flag passes — a stat NASCAR tracks based on position changes over each scoring loop on every lap — were down 54.4 percent from last fall’s playoff race at Talladega.
Think about that … lead changes at its lowest level since before any driver in Sunday’s race was born and green-flag passes down more than 50 percent from the previous year.
Is that something fans want to see more of?
Doesn’t seem to be the case based on Jeff Gluck’s weekly Twitter poll. He stated that only 42 percent of those who voted this week thought Talladega was a good race.
Was Talladega a good race? Only 42 percent of you said Yes, making it the least-liked plate race in the last three seasons (out of 12 plate races polled). Full chart of results: https://t.co/KlCZI7w8NV
Fewer than 50 percent of the voters said either Talladega race this year was a good one in Gluck’s poll. The April race had 24 lead changes — the fewest for that event since 19 lead changes in the 1998 race — and saw a 57.8 percent decline in green-flag passes.
There’s an expectation when NASCAR races at Daytona and Talladega of pack racing, passing and wild action.
Such was in limited supply at both Talladega races this year. But it wasn’t just there. The four plate races (Daytona and Talladega) saw 89 lead changes this season — down 29.4 percent from last year’s plate races.
While three of the four plate races this year ended with a last-lap pass (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500, Erik Jones at Daytona in July and Aric Almirola at Talladega last weekend), not everyone may be willing to wait through the racing to those final laps.
With the 2019 rules package, NASCAR anticipates pack racing to remain key at Daytona and Talladega but Sunday’s race might force series officials to make some additional changes to ensure the pack is back next year.
Questions have been raised about how NASCAR officiated the end of the Truck and Cup races this weekend at Talladega.
“Our first job is to always make sure everybody is safe, and we felt we did that in this case,” O’Donnell said about letting the Cup race finish under green.
While each last-lap scenario presents different challenges, NASCAR must remain steadfast in following what O’Donnell said in terms of driver safety. That must be No. 1 regardless of it is the last lap at Talladega, the last lap of the Daytona 500 or the last lap of the championship race in Miami.
NASCAR must be consistent with that. And that may mean calling for a caution instead of a dramatic race to the finish line.
It won’t be next year but maybe someday GMS Racing likely will field a Cup team.
After examining all the costs, Gallagher decided not to pursue the Furniture Row Racing charter and equipment.
“We’re still talking and thinking about it, but first things first, we’re trying to get through this year and do some good things, particularly winning the (Truck) championship,” Gallagher said after Timothy Peters won the Truck race at Talladega.
Spencer Gallagher called the deal not working out a “tempered disappointment” but added “we got into that deal and we realized that we were going to have to undertake some additional complications with it. More than anything, if and when we make the decision to go Cup racing, I’d like to think that if we have one true luxury it is that we get to choose when and where we get to do it, which means that we’re committed to only doing it if it can be done right.
“As Maury likes to say, there’s always another deal that comes along. Patience is our watchword for getting ourselves into Cup.”
The Round of 8 came to a close at Talladega with several playoff contenders involved in accidents. In the end, it was part-time driver Timothy Peters who survived the carnage to score his third Truck victory at Talladega and 11th of his career.
Johnny Sauter scored enough stage points to advance in the playoffs. He enters the Round of 6 with the lead and 42 bonus points.
Brett Moffitt is seeded second with 27 bonus points and is followed by Noah Gragson (25), Grant Enfinger (18) and Justin Haley (14). Matt Crafton is seeded in the sixth and final position with three bonus points.