It didn’t take NASCAR long to institute a new rule that was brought on by an embarrassing debacle at the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California, on March 17.
None of the final 12 cars set an official time in the qualifying lap because they didn’t make it to the starting line in time.
The reason? The drivers were all waiting at the pit road exit because they didn’t want to attempt a lap on their own without being able to draft off other cars to gain speed.
As the cars sat there, the fans booed.
Drafting allows the vehicles to reduce the drag and go faster. It comes into play at some tracks more than others, and the Auto Club Speedway is one of those places where drafting can have a significant impact.
“If there’s 12 cars, you want to be the 11th or 12th in line,” Denny Hamlin said, according to Fox News. “Being second is worse than being third. Being third is worse than being fourth, and on down the line. It’s really just a domino effect.”
The boos definitely got the attention of some of the drivers.
“I have seen it in other sports, but never seen it in ours,” Clint Bowyer said, reported Fox. “We just got booed, and it is disappointing.”
It also got the attention of NASCAR officials, who, just over one week after the debacle, instituted a rule change to prevent this from happening again.
Starting with this weekend’s race at the Texas Motor Speedway, any driver who doesn’t take a lap in any of the qualifying rounds won’t be able to use previously posted times, NASCAR said in a news release.
That means if the driver skips the qualifying lap, he would start the race from the back.
Also, NASCAR officials said any driver who blocks others from exiting pit road — as determined NASCAR – will be penalized by having the team’s posted qualifying speed disallowed.
“The inherent problem (at Auto Club) was obviously everybody waiting to the end, and it being unorderly on the end of pit road with people blocking and playing all kinds of games,” Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told NASCAR.com. “So really, we want to retake control and make order out of pit road and the way that drivers leave.”
Starting at Texas, cars not immediately making a qualifying attempt will be staged in an area designated by NASCAR. Once a vehicle leaves the area, it must go straight onto the race track. It can’t stop at the end of pit road and wait for the right moment to enter.
“We want to allow every competitor the chance to leave pit road when they want to leave and not be at the mercy of somebody else,” Miller said.
Some fans hoped for a return to single-car qualifying.
I was hoping we’d see #NASCAR announce the return of single car quals. Why? Because speed should be all that qualifying is about. Not drafting or waiting around on pit road. One round & every gets one hot lap. Simple, no gimmicks.
— Christian Espinoza (@Christian_Racin) March 25, 2019
@NASCAR please go back to single car qualifying except road courses. Qualifying doesn’t need to be made exciting. The excitement is in someone posting a faster lap than someone else.
— Eric Mullinax (@dashaund) March 26, 2019
#TMDNASCAR single car qualifying seemed to work fine for a long time. Not much interest in qualifying anymore. Not enough cars show up,36 are guaranteed to race and only 40 cars in cup. Constant rule changes and not much brand identity is killing nascar. #reboot
— Jody Belcher (@belcherjody1) March 26, 2019
Miller shot down that idea.
“Single-car qualifying is two things — it’s boring and it’s expensive. It also doesn’t create a good show,” Miller said. “Anytime we go on the track it should be a show. Certainly, we are in, first and foremost, the racing business. But we’re also in show business. We definitely have to provide our fans with something that’s intriguing to watch and gets them excited about coming back and watching the race.”
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