NASCAR Cup Series qualifying went off without much drama Friday night at Richmond Raceway — at least the kind of drama that has surrounded qualifying for much of this season, with drivers sitting at the end of the pit road; maneuvering to work the draft; and trying to beat the clock.
No drama, but qualifying was different.
NASCAR announced before the start of the Richmond weekend that the first and second qualifying rounds would be shorter — both 5 minutes long instead of 10, meaning that all three rounds would now be the same length.
The adjustment didn’t leave drivers with much time to try and game the system while also shortening the start-to-finish qualifying experience.
Kevin Harvick (photo above) and Erik Jones, pending Saturday inspection, will start on the front row.
Here is a post-qualifying sampling of driver reactions to the change (which NASCAR has said is not permanent):
Kevin Harvick (pole winner): “It was really just more congestion. I think when you come to a place like this with everyone running three or four laps, it is hard to get 40 cars going in the first round, or however many cars are here — 35 or 40 or whatever it is. To get those cars to run three or four laps, you run into traffic and it becomes more congested than it probably needs to be in the first round. The second and third rounds were fine.”
Eric Jones (second place): “Short tracks, I think it’s fine. It’s a little hectic in the first round and even in the second round, but it’s easy for me to say: We had a great pit stall being first out. I could just roll out and here it doesn’t benefit you to wait, so you just roll out and get your lap in. Other than that, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s going to solve any mile-and-a-half issues having a short first round for sure.”
Kurt Busch (third): “It really wasn’t much different. It’s a short track. The problem is the 1.5-mile tracks.”
Joey Logano (fourth): “It was short. I think here it is not really a necessary thing because cars wanted to go out early and it doesn’t allow teams to cool off and go back out in the same round to improve their time. I think you actually kind of lose a little bit of the drama of a car going back out, and can that car knock the car that is on the bubble out. There is no time to cool off and do that. By the time you run two or three laps you have killed maybe two minutes. You come in and cool off and it takes two or three-minutes and you are out of time. It doesn’t add up to do that. I thought it was okay. It didn’t bother us.”
Kyle Busch (fifth): “It’s a hurry. It’s hectic, that’s for sure. The biggest thing is there’s no time for reruns anymore. You’ve kind of got what you got. If you mess up or your car is off balance or whatever, you’re pretty much screwed.”
Martin Truex Jr. (sixth): “It wasn’t a huge deal here. Some tracks they get to be a lot bigger deal. It was fine. We luckily got out there and got us a clean lap in each round. I think that was really the main concern — especially the first round. It’s a lot of cars to get out there in five minutes and you just don’t want to get held up by anybody. We found a good spot; we rolled right out. Luckily our draw on pit road was good enough. We were 11th I think in line so we were able to get out there in that first wave which was good, and they were all good cars in front of us.”
Chase Elliott (seventh): “It was great. It was quick, like it should be. We weren’t sitting around for 45 minutes.”
Jimmie Johnson (10th): “I’ve been doing this so long and there have been so many games, I’ll play this game. I would assume it’s a better product for television and ultimately we need to worry about the show that’s being put on. The 15-minute sessions or whatever it was with three minutes of cars on track probably wasn’t the best thing to sit back and watch at home…”
Brad Keselowski (12th): “I had no problem with the format. It is going to have strengths and weaknesses — tracks where it is good and tracks where it is bad. It is hard to put a one-size-fits-all package on this, that is for sure, and optimize it. I thought today went pretty well, though. I think this can work on short tracks. It seems good.”
Paul Menard (13th): “The way the sport used to be you would do one lap and you either made it or you didn’t. You screwed up the one lap or you didn’t. The five-minute rounds, it is nice having it like that again and having that one opportunity to go out. You have to make sure you hit all your marks; there are no redo’s. I thought it was cool.”
Kyle Larson (14th): “I think the format is good. We’ve had too much time in that first round and I think it just gets a little hectic maybe for a track like this where there’s not much room. But I think shorter is better.”
Aric Almirola (15th): “I don’t think it was any more frantic. Obviously, it was a little bit more compact and not as much of an opportunity to get spread out and get a clean lap. There were definitely a lot of cars on the race track at one time. Obviously, we still run by ourselves here. It is a short track and we want clean air and we want to be able to get a clean lap. I thought this was pretty status quo as far as qualifying is concerned.”