Sunday, March 26, 2023

After Latest Embarrassment, Can We Do Away With Group Qualifying?

Clint Bowyer takes to the track in the first round of qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Photo Credit: Caleb Pifer (@CSPiferPhotos) /

FORT WORTH, Texas — In theory, having several cars on track at the same time in a pack battling for the pole position sounds like a great way to set the field for a race where cars will be doing the same thing during the event. It also sounds more exciting than single car qualifying runs.

However, NASCAR suffered another debacle in qualifying for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Aside from Jimmie Johnson — who won the pole — Joey Logano, and Bubba Wallace, there weren’t many who left the qualifying session with a smile on their face.

NASCAR had rules set in place for this weekend that were supposed to prevent drivers getting blocked on pit road when they were trying to head to the track for a last minute lap. Those rules were broken and penalties were not enforced.

Ryan Newman was heading down pit road and decided he didn’t want to go out for another lap so he attempted to pull into the designated staging area. Unfortunately he was not able to fit between two other trucks, this blocked the track for Clint Bowyer.

Following the session, Bowyer was very distraught about the qualifying procedures currently in place.

“I guess this is a make up the rules as we go event in qualifying,” Bowyer said. “It’s sad. Those people up there paid a lot of money to bring their families here to watch a qualifying session of people trying to go out and do their best and you sitting waiting around because you know your best is only good enough if the guy in front of you does a good job. That’s not qualifying.”

When asked what advice he had for NASCAR on qualifying, Bowyer had pointed words.

“Learn from your mistakes,” Bowyer stated emphatically. “That’s how you get better. Learn from your mistakes. We have already had this failure and here we are doing it again. I mean that’s just — come on.”

Bowyer continued by saying we are fortunate that we only keep talking about drivers getting blocked on pit road.

“We’re lucky this keeps happening. Wait until a wreck happens on pit road. We all know it’s coming,” Bowyer explained. “You can’t go to fast because you’ll be caught speeding. But you can’t go to slow because it’s discretionary. What the hell speed am I supposed to go? Just tell me when to go and maybe I’ll just do that. But wait, if somebody throws a caution and the caution comes out you’re screwed again.”

Bowyer wasn’t the only driver left seething after Friday’s qualifying session.

“I thought that was awesome. I think we should just do this every week,” Aric Almirola said in a sarcastic tone. “It’s so much fun to go down there and waste eight minutes of the ten minutes we are allotted. And then when I finally decide to roll up through the middle, they all block the middle and impede our progress.”

Almirola continued to give his view of the session by saying, “It’s mass confusion. And I don’t think [NASCAR] is 100-percent sure what is going on.”

“I’m confused. I need to go up into the hauler and ask some questions,” said Almirola before walking off to go hash it out with NASCAR officials.

Just about every other driver who stopped by the media bullpen following qualifying had the same assessment of the session as Bowyer and Almirola.

While the drivers were pointing their fingers at the sanctioning body, NASCAR’s director of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Jay Fabian pointed the finger back at the drivers and teams for the confusing issues that keep happening in qualifying.

“It’s disappointing that they sit out there as long as they do,” said Fabian. “It’s disappointing that they give reasons of why they don’t go. And then someone goes and they don’t follow them. A lot of what they say doesn’t add up with their actions on pit road. That’s the disappointing part.”

Fabian said that NASCAR will be processing what happened on Friday and will put more thought onto possible changes to qualifying as we head toward Summer. But it is apparent that something needs to be overhauled as group qualifying — which started out as a novel concept — has turned into an embarrassing talking point each and every week.

Toby Christie
Toby Christie
Toby is the Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Toby is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, he is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award-winning writer, and has followed the sport as a fan since 1993.

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