After safety concerns, NASCAR announces changes to qualifying

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After multiple drivers and teams expressed safety concerns in recent weeks, NASCAR has announced several changes effective immediately for all elements of its knockout qualifying format for the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

Teams will now be allowed to cool down their cars’ engines on pit road with the use of one cooling unit through either the left or right-side hood/cowl flap. The hood of the car must remain closed and the generator must not be plugged in.

Additionally, two crew members will be allowed over the wall to support the car and driver. Finally, cool-down laps on the track will no longer be permitted.

“The qualifying is new to all of us and as we have said over the past several weeks, we are looking at it from all aspects,” NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said in a statement. “Following discussions, both internally and with others in the garage area, we moved quickly to make a few revisions that will be effective starting with our two national series events at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend.

“We believe this will only enhance and improve what has demonstrated to be an exciting form of qualifying for our fans, competitors and others involved with the sport. Moving forward, we will continue to look at it and address anything else that we may need to as the season unfolds.”

The new qualifying format has garnered positive reaction, but drivers immediately noted the safety issue of having to run slow cool-down laps on the track after the format’s debut at Phoenix International Raceway earlier this month.

NASCAR initially resisted the allowance of cooling units in the pits because it didn’t want teams to open the hoods of the cars – which, in their eyes, would allow crew members to make illegal adjustments if they were inclined to do so.

However, the issue took on a bigger presence last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. After qualifying, Michael Waltrip Racing driver Brian Vickers said that having to run cool-down laps while other competitors were running at speed was “the most dangerous thing [he’s] ever done in racing.”

LVMS afforded Vickers and other drivers a proper apron to run the slow laps, but the room to do that at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway – site of this weekend’s Nationwide and Cup events – is basically next to none.

Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Team Penske Ford Fusion, said earlier today that the lack of real estate at Bristol could pose as a “potential issue” during qualifying.

But in a conference call this afternoon with various crew chiefs, the sanctioning body finally allowed the teams to use the cooling units. However, that apparently wasn’t their first plan.

An Associated Press report from Jenna Fryer relays word from multiple participants on the call that NASCAR initially said teams could use external fans in the pits. However, the idea was met with almost across-the-board objection.

Another potentially iffy aspect of knockout qualifying was not addressed today by NASCAR: The cars having to back out of their spot on pit road at the start of each round. Fryer reports that rule will remain intact at Bristol, because of procedures already in place at the track.

Montoya: ‘Hopefully I get a chance to do Indy again’ (VIDEO)

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Juan Pablo Montoya is on site at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, his latest trip in a summer and fall filled with a lot of international travel and a number of different race cars he’s been in.

Montoya is committed to a full season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Acura Team Penske in 2018, as he’ll share one of the team’s Acura ARX-05s with Dane Cameron.

However, the question of whether he’ll be able to race in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil remains.

Team Penske has said it plans to only run four cars next month of May, with Helio Castroneves as the fourth driver alongside the three full-time cars driven by Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.

While Montoya has said elsewhere that he’s shopping offers and has talked with other teams, it’d be highly surprising to see the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion who developed the Chevrolet engine for IndyCar’s 2018 Dallara universal body kit in a Honda-powered IndyCar, although he is running Honda’s brand (Acura) in sports cars.

Montoya elaborated on his Indy 500 prospects in an interview with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton at the Circuit of The Americas.

“Not full-time no,” Montoya told NBCSN of his IndyCar 2018 prospects. “Hopefully I get a chance to go to Indy, hopefully with Penske, (and) if not someone else. We’ll see.”

Photo: IndyCar

Montoya has extolled the early testing both on the 2018 IndyCar and on the Acura ARX-05.

The first Acura chassis has run at Road Atlanta and Sebring International Raceway thus far, and will be put through its paces at other venues over the next few months.

“It’s been good. We did a lot of work with INDYCAR on that car. Fans are gonna like it,” Montoya said of the 2018 kit.

“Going to IMSA with the Acura program, we’ve done a lot of testing. It’s a beauty to drive. It drives better than what it looks! I haven’t had that much fun driving a race car in a long time.”

Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race car to be campaigned by Team Penske in 2018