Saturday, July 5, 2014

Is Qualifying Now The Show? Maybe in F1

Gilliland on Daytona pole after bizarre qualifying session 
So there I was on Thursday and Friday watching qualifying for the NASCAR races at Daytona and the Formula One race at Silverstone, England.    There for a moment, flipping channels, I thought I was flipping between parallel universes.

At Daytona, packs of driver crept around the track at half speed in an embarrassing game of cat and mouse, worthy of F1.   Meanwhile, at Silverstone, three exciting sessions were playing out, capturing the drama F1 qualifying has been known for since it first tried knockout qualifying several years back, a format that has since been adopted by first IndyCar and this year by NASCAR.  With mixed results.

Rain played a role at both tracks.  In England, where it is seemingly always raining, teams scrambled to mount dry, wet and intermediate tires depending on the rapidly changing track conditions.  At Daytona, rain curtailed and ended qualifying sessions.  At Silverstone, Lewis Hamilton made the mistake of not running hard until the very end of the qualifying session.  After turning the fastest laps all day, he saw himself fall to sixth on the grid after five drivers went faster on the last lap.

No such excitement in Daytona where everyone seemed to rather watch than run.  The restrictor plate tracks are certainly not the place to showcase NASCAR’s version of knockout qualifying.  There were a few moments of excitement, such as when Kyle Busch led the Joe Gibbs Racing Nationwide team on a fast lap only to be balked and nearly wrecked by a non-qualifier.  But mostly it was sitting and watching.  And watching.

As a result, David Gilliland is on the pole for the Coke Zero 400.  Reed Sorenson is second.  Followed by Landon Cassill and Bobby Labonte.  Good for them, but not exactly household names.  Jamie McMurray, who had been fastest in the first practice session, will start 36th.  Kyle Busch will start 39th.  Joey Logano, who has done pretty well under the format in general, summed it up.

“That was pretty dumb,” he said.  “It is very difficult to figure out what is going on there. Before you know it, you are stopped on the racetrack and asking yourself what you are supposed to do.”

NASCAR needs to do something about the qualifying format at the restrictor plate tracks before the next one at Talladega, before it becomes a complete farce.  If it hasn’t already.  Maybe cut the sessions to 10 minutes.   Force everyone onto the track at the same time if that’s what you’re looking for. 

One final note.  You can count on F1 qualifying being more exciting than the race.  And you can count on the Coke 400 is more exciting than the qualifying.  It has to be.

5 comments:

  1. Don't have cable so the only qualifying I've been able to watch was Talladega which FOX broadcasted. I was trying to figure out what everyone thought was so great about it, watching cars sit there on pit road waiting for the clock to run down or for someone else to go out 1st which I take it pretty much guaranteed they would loose. I don't know what qualifying is like at other tracks since I've never seen it but I can tell you this sucked! This was also VERY confusing, you never knew where anyone was. At least with the old system with the tracker and all the technology, you always knew exactly where everyone was at every point of the lap, plus when FOX used their "Ghost Tracker" you could see a comparison of what lines a driver took in comparison to another driver. From what I saw I found this new qualifying to be EXTREMELY boring and I say bring back the old system!

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  2. Art, Like you, I watched the Nationwide and Cup qualifying from Daytona on TV. It's a good thing you and I watched, because apparently nobody in the Daytona Beach area was the least bit interested in it. The grandstands were empty!! Let's face a couple of important facts: 1) With the exception of pit stall selection, qualifying in the world of NASCAR today is meaningless. With the current rules package, a car three laps down can still win a race. Where a car starts the race these days doesn't really matter. 2) Attendance and TV viewership is down. These numbers were down last year and the year before, so when a 2014 race is down 7% from 2013, it's a heck of a lot further down from what is was just 3 years ago. NASCAR takes steps to try and counteract these trends. They thought having Danica would bolster viewership...it did not. They thought having a successful Dale Jr. would perk things up...it did not. Now they think "knockout qualifying" will ignite interest....well, you saw the grandstands...it has not. I believe that there are a certain percentage of folks who enjoy motorsports. I believe that NASCAR should be attempting to provide a product that actual fans of automobile racing want to see. Back in the days when stock car racing was a growing sport (slowly growing...but growing), that was mostly the case. It was not until NASCAR quit looking at the long term and decided that short term super growth is what was needed that things started to go off the rails. Trying to artificially create "excitement" that might appeal to somebody that had no interest in the art of auto racing just so they could get them to the track or tune in their TV sets has proven a failure. Besides, NASCAR's real goal was to try and bulk up the numbers so they could charge more for TV rights and attract big name sponsors willing to pour lots of money into the coffers. Well, they got those results, but at the expense of that group of real fans. Before it's all done, we'll be seeing figure 8 qualifying, races with four wide starting grids and a rule that when somebody wrecks, they get to pull out another car to finish the race...a race that has all cars always on the lead lap.

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  3. Thanks for your comments. Can't say I feel much better after watching the races today. The best racing of the day happened in England, when Vettel and Alanso went at it for awhile.

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  4. I think that drivers should be splitted in four groups, with a 10 minute session each

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