|Gilliland on Daytona pole after bizarre qualifying session|
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.