NASCAR: McMurray, Allmendinger focusing on new qualifying format at Sonoma

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NASCAR’s knockout-style qualifying format will make its Sprint Cup road-course debut tomorrow afternoon at Sonoma Raceway, and it has many in the paddock wondering about their strategy for it.

Among that group is Jamie McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger, who are also among the winless drivers that are searching for a win that can get them into the Chase.

McMurray won the pole for last year’s Sonoma race, but that involved a different format.

In 2013, NASCAR used a group qualifying format on road courses in which groups of five or six cars had five minutes of green flag time to set their fastest laps.

But this year, Sonoma will utilize the two-round version of the knockout format that took hold in Sprint Cup following this year’s Daytona 500.

For his part, McMurray expects to see most guys run one flyer and have that be their best for each round.

“When we look back to last year, it was about a second a lap slower your second time on the track, so I think it’s all about getting that perfect lap,” he said this morning before Cup practice got underway.

“It’s a little different now, because last year they started the [group] qualifying where you’d get to have multiple laps. But your best situation is to put the most tape on the car for one lap and have the air pressures up for just one lap and put it all on the line.

“Even though you have the option to run more, I really think the pole guy will do it with the most tape on and then, his first time by.”

As for Allmendinger, who many are keeping an eye on as a dark horse this weekend, he’s particularly concerned about the matter of running into slower cars that can ruin a potential pole run.

For the most part, Allmendinger feels that teams have done a good job this year working with each other to make sure that conflict doesn’t emerge.

But on Sonoma’s narrow circuit, the best intentions may not be enough.

“You can sit here on pit road and say ‘There’s nobody coming into Turn 11 for 10 seconds, roll out and you’ll have a clean lap,'” he said. “But by the time you get back to 11 and start your lap, how many cars have rolled out?

Indeed, in the first round of qualifying, getting a clean lap will likely be the most perilous challenge of all.

“The first group, you’re going to have a lot of cars that are on a cool-down lap or trying to get their tires in when somebody’s on a hot lap,” he said.

“It’s hard to hide around here. You can’t really hide and get out of the way, so I think that is what will be the most critical.”

Verstappen doesn’t want F1 season to end after recent run of form

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Max Verstappen says he is not ready for the 2017 Formula 1 season to come to an end after enjoying a run of strong form through the closing stages of the campaign.

Verstappen endured a rocky run of form through to the end of the European season that saw him suffer a number of reliability issues and score just a single podium finish, taking third in China back in April.

However, the Dutchman has rallied to score more points than any other driver in the last five races, including victories in Malaysia and Mexico, as well as a podium finish in Japan.

Verstappen heads into next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix chasing a third win of the year to sign off, but joked he does not want the season to end just as he’s got into a good groove.

“We will, of course, try and end the season with a strong result in Abu Dhabi,” Verstappen said. “Last year was actually quite a good race after skipping a pit stop following a spin at Turn 1, it was hard to manage the tires to the end of the race but we did it and finished fourth.

“I would say that my favorite part of the track is at Turns 2 and 3, the fast left, right. It’s also very cool driving underneath the hotel and racing in the darkness with all the lights.

“The final sector at Yas Marina is actually quite technical so you have to be really precise there, but it should also be our strongest part of the track.

“There are quite a few overtaking opportunities to make the race interesting, before the long straight at the hairpin and then at the end of the straight under braking for the next chicane section.

“Abu Dhabi is the last race on the calendar, but I don’t actually want the season to end. I’m really fired up at the moment and I just want to keep going.

“The nice thing will be to spend some time with friends and family over the winter break and then I will look ahead to January and get back into training before it all starts again.”