NASCAR’s new 2019 rules package gets its first real showcase this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the qualifying session delivered one of the wildest — and most polarizing — displays ever.
NASCAR has used a group qualifying format since 2014. With cars running both tapered spacers and aero ducts in place, part of an aero package designed to create more side-by-side racing, and emphasize drafting, drivers were required to rely on the benefits of the draft moreso than the raw power of their cars. The result was a qualifying session that resembled a frantic two-lap race.
In the final round of qualifying, which lasts five minutes, the 12 cars that advanced waited on pit road with their engines off until 90 seconds remained session, then rushed off pit road to set a time. With no one willing to be the first car off — which is a severe disadvantage due to the draft — the jockeying for position off pit road left commentator Darrell Waltrip joking that the field was likely to crash before getting on the track.
Aside from what seems to be an increased risk of an accident happening, the current state of qualifying doesn’t actually reward the fastest cars — something many drivers pointed out after climbing from their cars.
The car leading the pack has virtually no chance to post a top speed, and the race for the pole comes down to which car leaves pit road at the perfect time and gets the most help from whichever car is in front.
Kevin Harvick won the pole for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox).
Ryan Blaney, who failed to advance from the second round, blasted qualifying in an interview on Fox Sports 1.
“I used to have fun on Fridays, and that wasn’t very fun.”
Drivers had mixed reactions at the track and on social media.
From a TV perspective, Las Vegas qualifying was far more chaotic than any qualifying has been in the past, which some fans enjoyed.
Other fans are already calling for NASCAR to scrap the format.