NASCAR Nightmare: Group Qualifying Is a Bust at Daytona

by Scott Huntington On Fri, Feb. 20, 2015

Photo Credit: Noel Lanier

NASCAR fans will be shaking their heads in disappointment even when racing’s biggest event, the Daytona 500, starts on Sunday. The Daytona qualifying pole is finished, but both drivers and fans are distraught about a new rule that NASCAR debuted at the race.

That rule is known as group qualifying, and it’s part of NASCAR’s competition reformation in 2015. Last racing season, the organization tried it out at both Talladega and the July Daytona race. Despite the fact that it caused chaos and upset drivers at those races, NASCAR officially premiered it at this past Sunday’s pole. So what’s the fuss all about?

What Is Group Qualifying? 

The format for NASCAR qualifying is usually just a random draw. The drivers, in the order of the draw, then get two laps to try and set their best qualifying times.

The new format, group qualifying, pits groups of cars against each other for lap times. There are a series of five-minute sessions where this takes place. The top two cars in the final round of qualifying make up the front row for the Daytona 500. The remaining positions are set in the Budweiser Duels.

A Game of Chicken

Obviously, this is not a conventional format, particularly at restrictor plate tracks, and both fans and drivers, expressed their dissatisfaction. When the Daytona qualifying started, drivers thought they could outsmart their competition by playing a game of chicken. They hung out in the pits, waiting for their next lap to start so they could get a slower time.

Jeff Gluck of USA Today Sports expressed his frustration on this tactic. He lamented that the pole event used to be proof that drivers and race teams fine-tune their cars for months on end to set great qualifying times. He said:

“It was a one-time experiment that should become extinct, at least for the 500. This pole used to come after an offseason of hard work in the wind tunnel and by the engine shop, with attention paid to the smallest detail to make the car just hundredths of a second faster.”

Further Frustrations

Before Gluck even made his post, drivers were making comments at a post-race news conference addressing the problems of the new format.

Clint Bowyer, who wrecked during qualifying in a four-car accident caused by a block from Reed Sorenson, bashed the process. He told the NASCAR officials it was “a mess … Just extremely disappointed and I hate to say it, but I’m disappointed in NASCAR for putting us out in this situation.”

Even Jeff Gordon, who won the pole, admitted his frustrations. He said, “There’s so much going on in your mind. It’s literally like playing chess at 200 miles an hour.” Gordon’s last victory was at Dover on September 28, 2014, and he’ll want to have victories later into the year with this being his last season. He’ll already have so much on his mind that this extra element could hurt his performance.

NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell defended the change in format, reminding the people in the news conference that it was the teams who called for some of the change from single-car qualifying runs to group qualifying.

He further mentioned that the NASCAR board was open to suggestions, but said “We can’t rely on one driver, one owner, the track. We have to balance that and see what’s in the best interest of the entire sport.”

One thing is for certain, though. NASCAR followers definitely have some choice topics to talk about before the big race next weekend.

** The opinions expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the publisher. All comments other than website related problems need to be directed to the author. (c) **

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